lunes, 20 de agosto de 2018

The Great Chinese Disconnect

To address understandable American anger, China must admit it’s a superpower -- and start playing by global rules.

Trump captured Americans’ resentment about China’s rise.

It was late November 2016, and my Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier Wang Yang, was visiting Washington, D.C. Over the course of my tenure as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, the vice premier and I had developed a warm and candid relationship. Since this was to be our last official meeting, I decided to do something a bit different: take him to rural Virginia for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

While we were surrounded by our usual phalanx of security, we effectively sat alone, with the exception of our two closest aides. Shortly after we were seated, the vice premier leaned in close and almost whispered to me, “Can you explain what just happened in your presidential election?” Clearly, the Chinese were just as surprised by the results as we were.

I told the vice premier that we were still trying to understand the outcome ourselves, but that it was important for him to appreciate that China had played a significant role in the election. As the translator spoke into his ear, he shot me a somewhat surprised look. I explained that then-candidate Donald Trump’s “tough on China” rhetoric had tapped into an underlying strain of thought in the U.S. that Wang and other Chinese leaders needed to understand.

For years, Americans were told that China was a developing country and shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same standard as developed nations such as the U.S. But China’s success had severely undercut that line of reasoning. The Chinese economy was growing at 6 percent or more annually. Chinese cities, roads, ports and bridges were rising seemingly overnight. The world’s low-cost manufacturer was rapidly becoming a global technology hub. And the Chinese government was investing billions of renminbi in support of its “Made in China 2025” industrial plan. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality was profound and growing by the day.

At the same time, Americans felt that at least some of China’s success had come at their expense. They were seeing their middle-class jobs and once-prosperous lifestyles disappearing. China wasn’t playing fairly; it was consistently violating its international commitments and tilting the playing field to advantage Chinese firms. Economic complexities aside, the fact that Americans were, in part, paying the bill for such behavior had begun to sink in with millions of my fellow citizens.

Candidate Trump, of course, didn’t create these imbalances; he was simply very effective at tapping into this growing resentment. With or without Trump, the U.S.-China relationship was moving quickly toward a crossroads.

The point I was making to the vice premier is that, as China has risen to become a global power, the dynamic between the two countries has unquestionably changed. Meanwhile, too many Chinese actions and policies have not.

In fact, Chinese officials still frequently rely on the outdated rhetoric that China is merely a developing country. The developing nation narrative is clearly at odds with the observable reality of modern China, and it logically runs counter to China’s lofty goal of establishing a “new model of great power relations” between the U.S. and China — a dynamic focused on fostering cooperation and competition but avoiding confrontation, which, historically, has been the defining feature of relations between existing and rising powers.

It is hard to be both a poor, developing nation and the other party to a “new model of great power relations.” The formulation assumes the existence of two great powers. In the modern world, though, being a great power requires leadership. It requires being a good steward of the global economy, not just benefiting from it. It requires playing by the same rules and competing fairly, not relying on state resources to support domestic industries and innovation. If China wants to be the world’s other great power, it is manifestly in its interest to start acting like one.

To be fair, we have seen China emerge as a global leader on certain issues — such as climate — and, in recent months, President Xi Jinping has spoken consistently about China assuming a larger role in world affairs. In other areas, however, particularly those tied to economic and trade policy, the rhetoric continues to surpass the policies.

In part, it was this disconnect between words and reality that gave Trump his political resonance in the U.S. China is a great power. China has risen and, in so doing, has lifted 800 million people out of poverty. But, if China doesn’t change its approach to economic competition, I fear that today’s trade war will be nothing compared to the heightened tensions to come. Frankly, our domestic political system will demand action and President Trump will look like the mild first incarnation of a trend rather than an outlier.

The irony, of course, is that in so many important respects the economic and personal ties between the U.S. and China are deeper than ever:
The U.S. hosted roughly 130,000 Chinese graduate students during the 2016-2017 academic year. On average, each of those Chinese students spends more than $26,000 per year in the U.S.
Chinese direct investment in the U.S. expanded dramatically to $46 billion in 2016, before a steep decline in 2017. That investment has hyper-charged a range of sectors in all corners of our country.
In less than 10 years, spending from Chinese tourists in the U.S. has more than quadrupled to over $20 billion annually. Xi and then-President Barack Obama agreed to offer new 10-year tourist visas to citizens of both countries, so we can expect that number to grow.

In large part, China’s progress wouldn’t have been possible without the stable global economic order that the U.S. has underwritten and secured for the last 70 years. In that time, this system has limited conflict and led to the greatest increase in prosperity the world has ever seen. Without question, particularly over the last two decades, China has reaped the benefits of this rules-based order not just by competing aggressively but, it must be said, at times exploiting the existing system. That must change.

If it doesn’t, I fear that the stated goal of this “new model of great power relations” — competitive cooperation — will fall victim to China’s inability to change course. Then the politically plausible options for navigating China’s rise over the decades to come will be narrowed down to one: confrontation.

14% of Americans have changed their mind about an issue because of something they saw on social media

For most Americans, exposure to different content and ideas on social media has not caused them to change their opinions. But a small share of the public – 14% – say they have changed their views about a political or social issue in the past year because of something they saw on social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11.

Although it’s unclear what issues people changed their views about, within the past year a variety of social and political issues – from the #MeToo movement to #BlackLivesMatter and #MAGA – have been discussed on social media.

Certain groups, particularly young men, are more likely than others to say they’ve modified their views because of social media. Around three-in-ten men ages 18 to 29 (29%) say their views on a political or social issue changed in the past year due to social media. This is roughly twice the share saying this among all Americans and more than double the shares among men and women ages 30 and older (12% and 11%, respectively).

There are also differences by race and ethnicity, according to the new survey. Around one-in-five black (19%) and Hispanic (22%) Americans say their views changed due to social media, compared with 11% of whites.

Social media prompted views to change more among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (17%) than among Republicans and Republican leaners (9%). Within these party groups, there are also some differences by gender, at least among Democrats. Men who are Democrats or lean Democratic (21%) are more likely than their female counterparts (14%) to say they’ve changed their minds. However, equal shares of Republican and Republican-leaning men and women say the same (9% each).

Previous survey work with slightly different question wording showed similar overall partisan differences. In 2016, the Center asked social media users whether they had “ever modified” their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media. Two-in-ten said yes and 79% said no, with more Democrats and Democratic leaners than Republicans and Republican leaners saying they had modified views.

Although most people have not changed their views on a political or social issue in the past year because of social media, those who have also tend to place a high level of personal importance on social media as a tool for personal political engagement and activism. Among all social media users, people who changed their views on an issue are much more likely than those who didn’t to say such sites are important when it comes to getting involved with political or social issues important to them (63% vs. 35%) or finding others who share their views about important issues (67% vs. 38%). Just over half whose views changed (56%) say social media is personally important in providing a venue to express their political opinions, compared with a third of social media users who have not changed a view in the past year (33%).

While Americans who haven’t changed their views put less personal importance in social media, majorities see these platforms as helping give a voice to underrepresented groups; highlighting important issues that might otherwise go unnoticed; or helping hold powerful people accountable for their actions. Those who have changed a view thanks to social media are somewhat more likely to agree that these statements describe social media well. At the same time, majorities in both camps also agree that social media distracts people from issues that are truly important or makes people think they are making a difference when they really aren’t.

sábado, 18 de agosto de 2018

Trump’s approval ratings so far are unusually stable – and deeply partisan

President Trump during his speech at the “Make America Great Again Rally” at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa on July 31. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over the course of an eventful first 18 months in office, President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have remained remarkably stable. There has also been a wider gap between Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of Trump than for any other U.S. president in the modern era of polling.

Four-in-ten Americans approve of Trump’s job performance while 54% say they disapprove, according to a Pew Research Center survey in June. Trump’s approval ratings have hardly moved in surveys conducted by the Center this year, and his current rating is nearly identical to the 39% who said they approved of his performance in February 2017, shortly after his inauguration.

Trump’s steady ratings early in his tenure are unique among recent presidents. And while his ratings are also the most polarized along party lines, this divide represents a continuation of a trend seen in assessments of recent presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

An average of 84% of Republicans say they approve of Trump’s job performance, compared with an average of just 7% of Democrats, according to Pew Research Center data collected over the past year and a half. This 77-percentage-point gap is even larger than the partisan divides seen in average ratings of Obama (67 points) and Bush (58 points) during their presidencies. (A Pew Research Center report last year documented the parallel growing partisan divide in political values that has occurred over the past decade.)

The growing partisan gap in assessments of U.S. presidents has been driven by more negative ratings among members of the party that’s out of the White House. The 7% of Democrats who approve of Trump is lower than the 14% of Republicans who approved of Obama and the 23% of Democrats who approved of Bush during their respective administrations. Out-party ratings of the president were higher in previous decades. For example, an average 31% of Democrats approved of Ronald Reagan’s job performance.

Trump’s support among Republicans is comparable to the ratings other presidents have received from members of their own party. The 84% of Republicans who approve of the job Trump is doing is similar to the 81% of Democrats who approved of Obama’s job performance over the course of his administration and the 81% of Republicans who approved of Bush during his two terms.

Approval ratings have fluctuated for other recent presidents

Looking at approval ratings from individual surveys over time, the trajectory of Trump’s ratings during his first term differs from those of his recent predecessors. Trump began his administration with assessments far lower (39% approval) than those of other recent presidents at the outset of their administrations, including Obama (64% approval) and George W. Bush (53% approval).

While Trump’s ratings today are about the same as they were 18 months ago, other presidents saw far more change.

Approval ratings for Obama, Bill Clinton and Reagan all moved lower during their first two years in office, and by December of their second years, their ratings were in the low-to-mid 40s.

Bush’s approval ratings moved sharply higher in September of his first year – they reached 86% in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – before beginning to steadily decline. George H.W. Bush also saw his approval ratings improve in his first year before they turned lower and closed his second year in office about where they had started.

Trump’s approval rating is 8 percentage points lower than Obama’s was in June 2010 (40% vs. 48%) – a much smaller difference than was seen at earlier stages of their respective presidencies.

The share of the public approving of Trump’s job performance is not very different from the share approving of Clinton (42%) or Reagan (44%) 18 months into their administrations. However, Trump’s disapproval rating at this point is higher than both of these predecessors: 54% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the job, compared with 44% who said this of Clinton in June 1994 and 46% who disapproved of Reagan’s handling of the job in June 1982. (Fewer Americans say they “don’t know” how to rate Trump’s job performance at this point in his presidency than said the same thing at similar points for most of his predecessors.)

How Trump is seen by partisan ‘leaners’

Trump’s approval rating is broadly positive among independents who say they lean toward the Republican Party, though not quite as high as among self-identified Republicans. Through Trump’s first year and a half in office, an average of 71% of Republican leaners approve of his job performance, compared with 84% of Republican identifiers.

This is broadly similar to patterns in past administrations: During Obama’s time in office, an average of 81% of Democrats approved of how he handled his job, compared with 72% of Democratic leaners. An average of 81% of self-identified Republicans approved of George W. Bush’s job performance, compared with 70% of those who identified as GOP leaners.

Very small shares of both Democrats (7%) and Democratic-leaning independents (8%) say they approve of Trump. Similarly, Democratic leaners’ views of George W. Bush closely tracked the views of Democrats during his presidency. For both Obama and Clinton, Republican leaners were modestly more positive in their ratings than GOP identifiers.

Across individual surveys fielded since he took office, Trump’s approval rating has been largely stable among Republicans, Republican leaners, Democrats and Democratic leaners alike.

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2018

For Most Trump Voters, ‘Very Warm’ Feelings for Him Endured

Also: A detailed look at the 2016 electorate, based on voter records

In the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, an overwhelming majority of those who said they had voted for him had “warm” feelings for him.

By this spring, more than a year into Trump’s presidency, the feelings of these same Trump voters had changed very little.

In March, 82% of those who reported voting for Trump – and whom researchers were able to verify through voting records as having voted in 2016 – said they felt “warmly” toward Trump, with 62% saying they had “very warm” feelings toward him. Their feelings were expressed on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer.” A rating of 51 or higher is “warm,” with 76 or higher indicating “very warm” feelings.

The views of these same Trump voters had been quite similar in November 2016: At that time, 87% had warm feelings toward him, including 63% who had very warm feelings.

This report is based on surveys conducted on Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. The Center tracked views of Trump among the same groups of Americans in March 2018 and at three points in 2016, including in November shortly after the election. In that survey, respondents reported whom they had voted for.

When state voter files – publicly available records of who turned out to vote – became available months after the election, respondents were matched to these files. Self-reported turnout was not used in this analysis; rather, researchers took extensive effort to determine which respondents had in fact voted. And unlike other studies that have employed voter validation, this one employs five different commercial voter files in an effort to minimize the possibility that actual voters were incorrectly classified as nonvoters due to errors in locating their turnout records.

This study also includes a detailed portrait of the electorate – which also is based on the reported voting preferences of validated voters. It casts the widely reported educational divide among white voters in 2016 into stark relief: A majority of white college graduates (55%) reported voting for Hillary Clinton, compared with 38% who supported Trump. Among the much larger share of white voters who did not complete college, 64% backed Trump and just 28% supported Clinton.
Views of Trump among Clinton voters, supporters of other candidates

Many voters who ultimately supported Trump in the general election did not always feel so warmly toward him. In April 2016, shortly before Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, a substantial share of those who would go on to vote for him in November expressed mixed, or even cold, feelings toward him: While most (65%) either viewed him warmly or very warmly, about a third (35%) felt either cold or neutral toward him. About one-in-five (19%) of those who ended up voting for Trump had very cold feelings for him at that time (rating him lower than 25 on the 0-100 scale).

Yet just a few months later, after Trump had wrapped up the GOP nomination and the general election campaign was underway, Trump voters’ feelings toward him grew more positive. And in the wake of his election victory, the feelings of these same Trump voters turned even more positive. In November 2016, 87% of Trump voters said they had warm feelings toward him; and in March of this year, 82% did so.

While most Trump voters continued to have very positive feelings for him, Clinton voters – and voters who supported Gary Johnson and Jill Stein – continued to have even more negative views of Trump.

This March, an overwhelming share (93%) of verified voters who had backed Clinton in the 2016 election gave Trump a cold rating, with 88% giving him a very cold rating. Only 3% of those who voted for Clinton felt at all warmly toward Trump. In fact, a majority of Clinton voters (65%) gave Trump the coldest possible rating (0 on the 0-100 scale).

A large majority of verified voters who reported voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein in 2016 also viewed Trump very negatively this spring. Among voters who said they voted for either of these candidates, 84% gave Trump a cold rating, with 70% rating him very coldly.
From cold (or neutral) to warm

About a third of Trump’s November 2016 voters (35%) had cold or neutral feelings toward him earlier that year. By September 2016, a 57% majority of these voters had warmed to him, including 24% who felt very warmly. And shortly after the election, three-quarters of these once cold or neutral voters (74%) felt warmly toward him, including 43% who rated him very warmly.

Among the 65% majority of Trump voters who felt warmly toward him in April 2016, there was much less change in opinions about him. Of this group, 90% or more maintained warm feelings toward him in September and November 2016.

And among both of these groups of verified voters who cast ballots for Trump in November – those who felt warmly toward Trump in April 2016 and those who did not – opinions about Trump changed little between November 2016 and March 2018.
Four types of Trump voters, based on their views in 2016 and 2018

Comparing Trump voters’ feelings about him in April 2016 with their views in March 2018 divides them into four groups: Enthusiasts, who had warm feelings for Trump at both points; Converts, who were initially cold or neutral but warmed over time; Skeptics, who were cold toward Trump in April 2016 and cold again in March 2018; and Disillusioned Trump voters, who were initially warm toward him but were cold or neutral in March 2018.

Enthusiasts make up the largest share of Trump voters (59% of verified voters who reported voting for Trump); they gave Trump warm ratings on the feeling thermometer in both April 2016 and March 2018. Their loyalty to Trump was evident in the primary campaign: In April 2016, six-in-ten Enthusiasts (60%) said they wanted to see Trump receive the nomination compared with just 14% of the other groups of Trump general election voters.

Converts make up the next largest share of Trump voters (23%). These voters were cold or neutral toward Trump prior to his receiving the Republican nomination. In April 2016, nearly half of Converts (44%) favored Ted Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination. But in September 2016, during the general election campaign, 73% of this group had warm feelings for Trump, including 31% who gave Trump a very warm rating. By March 2018, 71% gave him a very warm rating.

Skeptics, like Converts, had cold or neutral feelings for Trump in April 2016. Unlike Converts, however, Skeptics did not have warm feelings toward Trump nearly two years later, after he became president. Skeptics, who constitute 12% of Trump voters, reported voting for him, and their feelings for the president became somewhat warmer in the wake of the election. But their views of him grew more negative after he became president.

A very small segment of Trump voters, the Disillusioned, had warm feelings for him in April 2016 – and reported voting for him that November – but had cold or neutral feelings for him in March 2018. The Disillusioned make up just 6% of Trump voters.

Looking at the average thermometer ratings for Trump from 2016 to 2018 among three groups of Trump voters (there are too few of the Disillusioned for this analysis) underscores the different trajectories in feelings toward Trump among the Converts, Skeptics and Enthusiasts.

In April 2016, the average thermometer ratings for Trump among both Converts and Skeptics were very low (27 among Converts, 24 among Skeptics). By contrast, the average rating among Enthusiasts was 85.

Shortly after the election, both Converts and Skeptics warmed considerably toward Trump, but there were sizable differences in views of the president-elect among the two groups: In November 2016, the average rating for Trump among Converts was 22 points higher than among Skeptics (79 vs. 57).

By March 2018, the average thermometer rating among Converts was 85, slightly higher than it had been shortly after the election. The average rating among Skeptics plummeted more than 20 points (from 57 to 33). The average thermometer rating for Trump among Enthusiasts remained very high over the course of the 2016 campaign and into the second year of Trump’s presidency (88 in March 2018).
In March 2018, modest gender gap in views of Trump among supporters

In April 2016, men who ended up voting for Trump gave him somewhat higher average thermometer ratings than did his women supporters. There were no gender differences in November 2016, following the election. But a significant gap is now evident. Among voters who had reported voting for Trump, men gave him an average thermometer rating of 80 in March 2018, unchanged from November 2016. The average rating among women Trump voters was 74, down 7 points from shortly after the election. There were comparable gender differences during the primary campaign in April 2016, when the average rating for Trump was 6 points higher among men (67) than women (61) who said they voted for him.

The oldest Trump voters, those in the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945), gave him the highest average thermometer ratings in March of this year (82) and in November 2016 (87). There were more modest generational differences in April of that year.

Trump voters without a four-year college degree have rated him consistently higher on the thermometer than have his supporters with a four-year college degree or more advanced education. In March of this year, the average rating among Trump voters who had not completed college was 80, compared with 72 among college graduates.

An examination of the 2016 electorate, based on validated voters

One of the biggest challenges facing those who seek to understand U.S. elections is establishing an accurate portrait of the American electorate and the choices made by different kinds of voters. Obtaining accurate data on how people voted is difficult for a number of reasons.

Surveys conducted before an election can overstate – or understate – the likelihood of some voters to vote. Depending on when a survey is conducted, voters might change their preferences before Election Day. Surveys conducted after an election can be affected by errors stemming from respondents’ recall, either for whom they voted for or whether they voted at all. Even the special surveys conducted by major news organizations on Election Day – the “exit polls” – face challenges from refusals to participate and from the fact that a sizable minority of voters actually vote prior to Election Day and must be interviewed using conventional surveys beforehand.

This report introduces a new approach for looking at the electorate in the 2016 general election: matching members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel to voter files to create a dataset of verified voters.

The analysis in this report uses post-election survey reports of 2016 vote preferences (conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 12, 2016) among those who were identified as having voted using official voting records. These voter file records become available in the months after the election. (For more details, see “Methodology.”) Among these verified voters, the overall vote preference mirrors the election results very closely: 48% reported voting for Hillary Clinton and 45% for Donald Trump; by comparison, the official national vote tally was 48% for Clinton, 46% for Trump.

This data source allows researchers to take a detailed look at the voting preferences of Americans across a range of demographic traits and characteristics. It joins resources already available – including the National Election Pool exit polls, the American National Election Studies and the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement – in hopes of helping researchers continue to refine their understanding of the 2016 election and electorate, and address complex questions such as the role of race and education in 2016 candidate preferences.

It reaffirms many of the key findings about how different groups voted – and the composition of the electorate – that emerged from post-election analyses based on other surveys. Consistent with other analyses and past elections, race was strongly correlated with voting preference in 2016. But there are some differences as well. For instance, the wide educational divisions among white voters seen in other surveys are even more striking in these data.
Among validated voters in 2016, wide gap among whites by education

Overall, whites with a four-year college degree or more education made up 30% of all validated voters. Among these voters, far more (55%) said they voted for Clinton than for Trump (38%). Among the much larger group of white voters who had not completed college (44% of all voters), Trump won by more than two-to-one (64% to 28%).

There also were large differences in voter preferences by gender, age and marital status. Women were 13 percentage points more likely than men to have voted for Clinton (54% among women, 41% among men). The gender gap was particularly large among validated voters younger than 50. In this group, 63% of women said they voted for Clinton, compared with just 43% of men. Among voters ages 50 and older, the gender gap in support for Clinton was much narrower (48% vs. 40%).

About half (52%) of validated voters were married; among them, Trump had a 55% to 39% majority. Among unmarried voters, Clinton led by a similar margin (58% to 34%).

Just 13% of validated voters in 2016 were younger than 30. Voters in this age group reported voting for Clinton over Trump by a margin of 58% to 28%, with 14% supporting one of the third-party candidates. Among voters ages 30 to 49, 51% supported Clinton and 40% favored Trump. Trump had an advantage among 50- to 64-year-old voters (51% to 45%) and those 65 and older (53% to 44%).

For a detailed breakdown of the composition of the 2016 electorate and voting preferences among a wide range of subgroups of voters, see Appendix. For the survey methodology and details on how survey respondents were matched to voter records, see “Methodology.”
2016 vote by party and ideology

Voter choice and party affiliation were nearly synonymous. Republican validated voters reported choosing Trump by a margin of 92% to 4%, while Democrats supported Clinton by 94% to 5%. The roughly one-third (34%) of the electorate who identified as independent or with another party divided their votes about evenly (43% Trump, 42% Clinton).

Similarly, voting was strongly correlated with ideological consistency, based on a scale composed of 10 political values – including opinions on race, homosexuality, the environment, foreign policy and the social safety net. Respondents are placed into five categories ranging from “consistently conservative” to “consistently liberal.” (For more, see “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider.”)

Virtually all validated voters with consistently liberal values voted for Clinton over Trump (95% to 2%), while nearly all those with consistently conservative values went for Trump (98% to less than 1% for Clinton). Those who held conservative views on most political values (“mostly conservative”) favored Trump by 87% to 7%, while Clinton received the support of somewhat fewer among those who were “mostly liberal” (78%-13%). Among the nearly one-third of voters whose ideological profile was mixed, the vote was divided (48% Trump, 42% Clinton).
Religious affiliation and attendance

As in previous elections, voters in 2016 were sharply divided along religious lines. Protestants constituted about half of the electorate and reported voting for Trump over Clinton by a 56% to 39% margin. Catholics were more evenly divided; 52% reported voting for Trump, while 44% said they backed Clinton. Conversely, a solid majority of the religiously unaffiliated – atheists, agnostics and those who said their religion was “nothing in particular” – said they voted for Clinton (65%) over Trump (24%).

Within the Protestant tradition, voters were divided by race and evangelicalism. White evangelical Protestants, who constituted one out of every five voters, consistently have been among the strongest supporters of Republican candidates and supported Trump by a 77% to 16% margin.

This is nearly identical to the 78% to 16% advantage that Mitt Romney held over Barack Obama among white evangelicals in Pew Research Center polling on the eve of the 2012 presidential election.

Among white mainline Protestants (15% of voters overall) 52% said they voted for Trump and 44% reported voting for Clinton. This, too, was very similar to the mainline Protestant split in 2012. Clinton won overwhelmingly among black Protestants (96% vs. 3% for Trump).

White non-Hispanic Catholics supported Trump by a ratio of about two-to-one (64% to 31%), while Hispanic Catholics favored Clinton by an even larger 78% to 19% margin.

Among all voters, those who reported attending services at least weekly favored Trump by a margin of 58% to 36%; the margin was similar among those who said they attended once or twice a month (60% to 38%). Those who reported attending services a few times a year or seldom were divided; 51% supported Clinton and 42% supported Trump. Among the nearly one-quarter of voters (23%) who said they never attend religious services, Clinton led Trump by 61% to 3o%.
Demographic and political profiles of Clinton and Trump voters

As the pattern of the votes implies, the coalitions that supported the two major party nominees were very different demographically. These differences mirror the broad changes in the compositions of the two parties: The Republican and Democratic coalitions are more dissimilar demographically than at any point in the past two decades.

In 2016, a 61% majority of those who said they voted for Clinton were women, while Trump voters were more evenly divided between men and women. Whites constituted nearly nine-in-ten (88%) of Trump’s supporters, compared with a smaller majority (60%) who voted for Clinton. Clinton’s voters also were younger than Trump’s on average (48% were younger than 50, compared with 35% for Trump).

Among Clinton voters, 43% were college graduates, compared with 29% of Trump voters. And while non-college whites made up a majority of Trump’s voters (63%), they constituted only about a quarter of Clinton’s (26%).

About a third of Clinton voters (32%) lived in urban areas, versus just 12% among Trump voters. By contrast, 35% of Trump voters said they were from a rural area; among Clinton voters, 19% lived in a rural community.

The religious profile of the two candidates’ voters also differed considerably. About a third of Clinton voters (35%) were religiously unaffiliated, as were just 14% of Trump voters. White evangelical voters made up a much greater share of Trump’s voters (34%) than Clinton’s (7%). One-in-five Trump voters (20%) were white non-Hispanic Catholics, compared with just 9% of Clinton voters. And black Protestants were 14% of Clintons supporters, while almost no black Protestants in the survey reported voting for Trump.
How did 2016 voters and nonvoters compare?

The data also provide a profile of voting-eligible nonvoters. Four-in-ten Americans who were eligible to vote did not do so in 2016. There are striking demographic differences between voters and nonvoters, and significant political differences as well. Compared with validated voters, nonvoters were more likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite. And nonvoters were much more Democratic.

Among members of the panel who were categorized as nonvoters, 37% expressed a preference for Hillary Clinton, 30% for Donald Trump and 9% for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein; 14% preferred another candidate or declined to express a preference. Party affiliation among nonvoters skewed even more Democratic than did candidate preferences. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents made up a 55% majority of nonvoters; about four-in-ten (41%) nonvoters were Republicans and Republican leaners. Voters were split almost evenly between Democrats and Democratic leaners (51%) and Republicans and Republican leaners (48%).

While nonvoters were less likely than voters to align with the GOP, the picture was less clear with respect to ideology. Owing in part to the tendency of nonvoters to be politically disengaged more generally, there are far more nonvoters than voters who fall into the “mixed” category on the ideological consistency scale. Among nonvoters who hold a set of political values with a distinct ideological orientation, those with generally liberal values (30% of all nonvoters) considerably outnumbered those with generally conservative values (18%).

Voters were much more highly educated than nonvoters. Just 16% of nonvoters were college graduates, compared with 37% of voters. Adults with only a high school education constituted half (51%) of nonvoters, compared with 30% among voters. Whites without a college degree made up 43% of nonvoters, about the same as among voters (44%). But nonwhites without a college degree were far more numerous among nonvoters (at 42%) than they were among voters (19%).

There also were wide income differences between voters and nonvoters. More than half (56%) of nonvoters reported annual family incomes under $30,000. Among voters, just 28% fell into this income category.

Trump blasts Cuomo again for America 'was never that great' comment

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is running a tense reelection campaign, is facing backlash after putting a twist on Trump's 2016 campaign slogan.

President Donald Trump took more swipes at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday, asking how he will "survive" co-opting the president's catch phrase into a one-liner of his own.

Cuomo, who is running a tense reelection campaign, is facing backlash after putting a twist on Trump's 2016 campaign slogan.

“We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great," Cuomo said earlier this week.

Trump fired back in a series of tweets on Friday, his latest taunt to the governor of his home state who he says promised to never run for president against him. The president ripped Cuomo on "his really dumb statement about America's lack of greatness" and questioned why anybody would vote for him.

"How does a politician, Cuomo, known for pushing people and businesses out of his state, not to mention having the highest taxes in the U.S., survive making the statement, WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT? Which section of the sentence is worse?" Trump wrote on Twitter.

"When a politician admits that 'We’re not going to make America great again,' there doesn’t seem to be much reason to ever vote for him. This could be a career threatening statement by Andrew Cuomo, with many wanting him to resign-he will get higher ratings than his brother Chris!" the president added. "I have already MADE America Great Again, just look at the markets, jobs, military- setting records, and we will do even better. Andrew 'chocked' badly, mistake!" Trump wrote.

The latest attacks came after Trump on Wednesday tweeted, "'WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.' Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!"

For weeks, the president has been laying into the New York governor. Trump was raised in Queens and had his business career in Manhattan, so his personal relationships with New York politicians span decades. He also has taken to more regularly attacking New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Cuomo's primary opponent has also weighed in on his "never great" comment. Cynthia Nixon said the gaffe was "just another example of Andrew Cuomo trying to figure out what a progressive sounds like and missing by a mile."

The Woman Behind the New York Campaign to Take Down Trump

Progressive favorite Zephyr Teachout promises to retool the powerful New York prosecutor’s office to go straight after Donald Trump. She’s not the only one. Is this the road Democrats want to go down?

Zephyr Teachout, the would-be next attorney general of New York, sits tight against the desk in the former doctor’s office she’s using for her campaign headquarters, her very pregnant belly barely visible above the desk’s metal top. She runs her hands through her hair like a law professor lecturing on a particularly thorny constitutional question. She lays out precisely how she could, if elected, use her office put Donald Trump in prison.

Teachout’s headquarters is in East Harlem, just a few miles northeast of Trump Tower, but a world away from its pink white-veined marble, mirrors and brass. Until earlier this year, this was a husband-and-wife urology and ophthalmology practice. Her press team operates out of an erstwhile exam room. Teachout takes the former urologist’s office for herself, empty except for her cellphone and laptop, and piece of poster paper sitting on the floor on which is written “SIGN THE CLIMATE PLEDGE.”

Teachout is a 46-year-old professor of law at Fordham University, where she teaches classes on antitrust and the Constitution. As a young lawyer from Vermont, Teachout joined the Howard Dean campaign as director of internet organizing; a magazine story from the time described her as “a slight, freckled lawyer” who “darts around the office in a pair of silver shoes with the balletic, boyish energy of Peter Pan.” The shoes are gone now, but the energy is unchanged, even with Teachout due to give birth to her first child in October.

If all goes according to plan, the baby will be born just after the primary and just before the general election, and will be just beginning to babble when Teachout takes office and turns the full force of the nation’s most prestigious and powerful state legal office against the president of the United States. “This is war time. This is a total crisis moment,” Teachout says. “It calls for Churchill. It calls for bringing out new ideas.”

The New York AG’s office is known for the firepower of its prosecutors and the ambition of its occupants. Robert Abrams saw himself as taking the place of federal regulators defanged in the Reagan era; Eliot Spitzer unearthed an obscure 70-year-old law to go after the financial wrongdoing of Wall Street billionaires. Eric Schneiderman compelled the president to fork over $25 million to settle Trump University fraud lawsuit.

Teachout is another type of force entirely, a professor with expertise on both corruption and the Constitution, whose skills seem uniquely tailored to this strange moment in American politics. She may never occupy the office—she’s tied for second in a four-person race, with close to half of likely voters undecided—but her anti-Trump battle plan has already shaped the contours of the race, with other occupants competing to out-anti-Trump one another, virtually guaranteeing the office will have a strong focus on the president. Nationally, it represents maybe the most extreme example of a specific new theory of Democratic politics: that the President of the United States represents a red-level threat alert to the republic, and that the first job of Democratic politicians, and especially Democratic prosecutors, is to stop him.

“We need someone in the AG’s office who is going to dig under every rock,” she says, promising “new tools” and “cutting-edge theories” about how a state-level prosecutor can go after the business, charity and personal empire of a sitting president.

Teachout first drew political attention for her long-shot primary campaign against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, in which she grabbed a surprisingly large share of the vote and pushed Cuomo to govern from the left in his second term. After a failed bid for Congress, her political career seemed done until New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was forced to resign in a sexual harassment scandal in May, and she quickly declared that she was in the race to succeed him.

Zephyr Teachout points to Trump Tower during a campaign stop on June 5, 2018, in New York.

She’s made the traditional promises of an AG, of course, saying she’ll police Wall Street and clean up Albany; she’s pledged to curb the influence of the real-estate industry. But the meat of her campaign is a very specific message: If elected, she wants to refocus the attorney general’s office on investigating Trump, his family, his associates and his businesses for possible money laundering, bank fraud and larceny. She wants the office to start preparing itself on Day One for the possibility that Trump could fire Robert Mueller or otherwise try to gut the special counsel’s investigation. If Trump pardons members of his family or his associates, Teachout says, the office needs to be ready for that, too—prepared to bring charges under state law when applicable.

This has turned Teachout into something of a star of #TheResistance, and would-be attorneys general around the country are paying heed. In Minnesota, Democratic nominee for AG Keith Ellison launched his campaign telling ABC News that he wanted to be the “legal resistance” to the Trump administration at the state level, even as he conceded that it would be a “mistake” to dwell too much on Trump; In Florida, Democratic front-runner Sean Shaw has pledged to catch the Sunshine State up with anti-Trump lawsuits other states have filed.

Can Democrats both be the party of preserving civic norms and the party of “Lock Him Up”?

But it has also led to critics, even within the Democratic Party, who fret over the prospect of law enforcement officials vowing to investigate their political opponents—and consider this personality-focused approach a dangerous direction for a prosecutor’s office to take, regardless of who the president is. It strikes some liberals as an uncomfortable mirror of the revenge-driven practices they deplored when President Barack Obama was the target—the progressive equivalent of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who once described his life as attorney general as, “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

The critique gets to the heart of what it means to be a Democrat in the Age of Trump, or a principled officeholder of any party, where the job consists both of moving an agenda forward and also defending the system itself from a leader who flouts the norms that kept it healthy in the first place. Can Democrats both be the party of preserving civic norms and the party of “Lock Him Up”?


If it were any almost other candidate, tilting at the White House like this would seem like a pointless exercise. And even Teachout’s AG campaign can seem a little quixotic: She has never held office, and never run a campaign with any real support from her own party establishment.

But legal experts take her expertise on the Trump front very, very seriously. She literally wrote the book on political corruption—Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, published in 2014—and after Trump won, she was one of the first to recognize what kind of Constitutional problem the president was creating by failing to divest himself from his businesses. Writing in The New York Times less than two weeks after the election, Teachout identified the “emoluments clause”—a heretofore obscure provision of Article 1 of the Constitution—as essentially an anti-bribery rule, one of several constitutional provisions written to prevent foreign powers from influencing domestic affairs. Running an international hotel and golf business essentially guarantees Trump is taking money from foreign powers, potentially giving wealthy individuals and governments leverage over presidential decisions. The emoluments clause, she argues, is a cornerstone of American democracy—one that we’d simply never needed to enforce before, because no president had chosen to retain control of a multinational company while holding office.

“She had a laser-like clarity from Day One about what the Constitution means,” said Norm Eisen, a former government ethics official who co-founded the nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, whose board Teachout joined last year. Along with the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., Teachout and CREW helped assemble a long-shot lawsuit against Trump accusing him of violating the emoluments clause by accepting gifts from foreign and state governments through his D.C. hotel, which earned $40 million in revenues in Trump’s first year in office. The suit is still working its way through the courts: Late last month a federal judge rejected Trump’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit, so now lawyers from both AGs’ offices are allowed to review financial records of Trump’s businesses and interview employees of the Trump Organization.

In putting the emoluments lawsuit together, what was striking, Eisen said, was “how practical she was. There were many scholars who wanted to help, but not every law school professor or activist has sound ideas about the law in its application to actual cases. Zephyr knew that in order for the case to have a broad-based legal foundation it must satisfy all of the legal tests, including conservative originalism. She crafted a case that I believe Antonin Scalia would have loved.”

New York never joined the suit, however, even though it is where most of Trump’s businesses are located. At the time, Teachout tried to get Eric Schneiderman to join the case in Maryland and D.C., meeting him at the legendary, checked-tablecloth Italian restaurant Carmine’s on the Upper West Side. (A spokesman for the AG’s office said that they were continuing to investigate the matter.)

After Trump’s election, Schneiderman wasn’t shy about crusading against the excesses of the administration, taking 150 legal actions against the Trump administration on issues ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.Teachout’s campaign in many ways is based on the premise that he could have gone much further. She argues that the office has largely been defensive, stopping bad things from happening. As Teachout tells it, it is time to go on offense: “We need shields,” she says, “But we also need swords. It is not enough to be defensive in this moment.”

She also thinks she can go further than Barbara Underwood, Schneiderman’s successor—though she credits Underwood for suing the Trump Foundation for violations of tax and campaign finance law, triggering a state investigation that could lead to criminal prosecution. “She has done more to take on Donald Trump in the last two months than Eric Schneiderman did in seven years,” Teachout said.

(When I called the AG’s office for comment, Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Underwood and previously for Schneiderman, declined to address the substance of Teachout’s critique but did say, “If you want to write a bullshit piece that disparages the people in this office and their legal work, go ahead and do that.”)

This is someone whose entire career is based on shady business deals and we are going after the heart of his power. I don’t know what we will find, but I would be very surprised if we would find nothing.” Zephyr Teachout

If Teachout wins, she already has her game plan. Her first priority in office, she says, is to file an emoluments lawsuit that forces Trump to release his tax returns and his business records, and to divest from his businesses in New York—the cradle of the Trump empire. The second priority is to investigate Trump’s business and foundation under two obscure state laws known as 63(12) and 1101, which could lead to the kind of civil criminal actions that in extreme cases allow the AG to dissolve the corporation. She also says she would seek broad criminal jurisdiction from the governor when necessary to pursue criminal charges in case any illegality is found on the part of Trump or his family.

She doesn’t have much doubt she’ll turn it up. “He is already violating the law,” she adds. “As much as he is making money off the presidency and off of anything illegal, we have to investigate, and if there are crimes we will prosecute them. This is someone whose entire career is based on shady business deals, and we are going after the heart of his power. I don’t know what we will find, but I would be very surprised if we would find nothing.”

She’s already notched one win. Teachout has been pushing since the start of her campaign for Cuomo to provide the attorney general’s office a criminal referral, necessary if Underwood is going to pursue charges in the foundation case. Last month, the governor did, a move that that has largely been credited to Teachout’s advocacy—but that Teachout says is still too limited.


Teachout’s focus on Trump has helped turn what once looked like a long-shot candidacy into a serious threat to front-runner Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate. She is currently tied with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney for second place, while former Hillary Clinton and Cuomo aide Leecia Eve runs in fourth.

And it has also transformed the AG’s race into a contest of who can out-Teachout Teachout in taking on Trump. The rhetoric has turned dramatic. In a recent ad, her rival Maloney sits calmly in his living room and says: “I feel like there’s a group of men who have shown up with Donald Trump in the front yard and they’re getting ready to tear this house apart. And I’m going to stand in the hallway with a baseball bat, because I don’t have a choice. My kids are upstairs asleep.”

James, in an interview with Yahoo News, said: “The president of the United States has to worry about three things; Mueller, Cohen, and Tish James. We’re all closing in on him.”

The four main contenders for the Democratic nomination for New York attorney general (clockwise, from upper left): Letitia James, Sean Patrick Maloney, Leecia Eve, Zephyr Teachout. | AP; Getty Images

But critics look at all this posturing, the promises to go after one man, and wonder what has become of the basic fairness principle that goes with holding American office. Are Teachout and her fellow candidates really promising to spend the powers of their state office taking on a sitting president personally?

“The job of the attorney general is to be the chief law enforcement officer for the people of the state. It is not to be the lead lawyer in a political movement against Donald Trump,” said Richard Brodsky, a former longtime New York lawmaker who ran for attorney general in 2010. “It starts getting into very dangerous territory, that the marginal and political responsibilities of the AG become paramount over the constitutional responsibilities. Donald Trump is detestable, but we are still a nation of laws, not persons, and the job of New York AG is not to be Donald Trump’s chief tormentor.”

When Teachout appeared on MSNBC in May and told Ari Melber that she was open to prosecuting members of the Trump administration, she drew a sharp response on Twitter from Brendan Nyhan, a professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on political norms, who tweeted that she risked undermining the rule of law: “Democrats should not rationalize Zephyr Teachout’s behavior—what if the NY AG was a Republican who ran on investigating President Hillary Clinton? We must not go down this road. The powers of prosecutors are vast and easily abused.”

In an interview, Nyhan elaborated: “It is worrisome when any candidate for a prosecutorial office announce their intention to pursue a prosecution for someone from the other party before they have examined the evidence in that office,” he said. He compared Teachout’s comments to those of James Comey, who made it be known what he thought of Hillary Clinton’s email practices before declining to bring charges.

“If you are asked if you would investigate broad allegations of criminal misconduct, the answer can obviously be yes,” he said. “But that is different from campaigning on the promise that you specifically prosecute someone from an opposing political party.”

Teachout rejects this notion entirely. No one would fault her for promising to take on the pharma industry in her campaign, as its abuses have been widely reported. And she isn’t throwing lawsuits and seeing what sticks, either. “It is fully appropriate to say, ‘These are the facts we have. We have many reasons to believe these businesses are engaged in illegality.’ But if they aren’t, they aren’t.”

She would agree with Nyhan and her critics in more ordinary times, she says—which, she insists, these are not, with a president unabashedly profiting off his office. “To look at the available evidence and not see that there is a serious problem with this administration is nuts,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I am going to telegraph to you where a case will lead, but I am unapologetic about saying that there is enough to start an investigation here and here and here. A criminal investigation into his foundation. A criminal investigation into his family and his business and himself. I mean, let’s look.”

There is a risk, too, for the Democratic Party: That the “lock him up” approach could turn into a litmus test for highly activated anti-Trump voters in the Democratic primary, making life harder for candidates around the country. “We are just happily sitting back watching the food fight on the left,” said Zach Roday, communications director for the Republican Attorneys General Association.

All of this has led to Teachout becoming something of a favorite punching bag on the right, too. Fox News has particularly targeted her, especially after Teachout cut a video promising to bring prosecutions against ICE agents who commit criminal acts, with both Tucker Carlson and “Fox & Friends” getting their licks in.


On a scorching hot August day in New York, Teachout ventured out to Bushwick to endorse Julia Salazar, a 27-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America running for the state Senate against a 15-year incumbent. There was no real press presence to speak of, and no real people either, except for a few volunteers from both campaigns who stood in the background to hold campaign signs for the Facebook Live broadcast. It is part of Teachout’s strategy: even before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upended the career of Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House and the boss of the Queens Democratic machine, New York was awash in primary challengers to establishment Democrats up and down the ballot.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shares a laugh with Zephyr Teachout after endorsing her attorney general campaign on July 12. | Getty Images

Teachout, who was running against the establishment from the left back when “the resistance” still referred to World War II, supports nearly all of them, including Cynthia Nixon, who is mounting her own long-shot campaign for governor. They see themselves as harnessing the liberal anger at the Democratic establishment that has been bubbling throughout the country; the primary challengers, who are mostly women, and mostly women of color, are now running as a slate in the September primary.

Over the rumble of the subway cars on the way back to Harlem (“What, you really think we can afford a car service?” an aide said), Teachout remarked at her shock at seeing in the Washington Post the week before a story about how the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., had gotten a key second-quarter revenue boost from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. “I mean, an actual prince!” she said with a laugh. “The Constitution recognizes kings, princes and foreign potentates. This is just outrageous.”

The story, though, made plain what she says has been obvious all along: “This is a president who makes very clear that how his businesses are doing impact how he feels. He is advertising it. He is creating the honey pot, and he is not denying it. He says, ‘Saudi Arabia, why should I dislike them? They give me lots of money.’”

She doesn’t see herself as promising that Trump will be led out of the Oval Office in handcuffs; rather, she’s promising to follow the law and arguing that the law is already pointing pretty strongly in one direction. On Day One, as she sees it, New York will join the emoluments lawsuit. To know the scope of the emoluments violation, Trump’s tax returns will be required, as will other financial records. If Trump refuses to comply with the court request, the nation will be in uncharted political territory, and Teachout, the law professor, thinks that the Constitution is clearly on her side.

“When you have a president who is making money off the presidency, you have to go after both the presidency party and the money part. And we have to stop it. All I can promise is tenacity. We can’t stop where we have stopped before.”

martes, 14 de agosto de 2018

Soviet Collapse Echoes in China’s Belt and Road

Grand investment plans for unproductive regions have caused empires to founder before. 

The drive to develop Siberia helped precipitate the Soviet Union’s collapse.

What causes empires to fall?

According to one influential view, it’s ultimately a question of investment. Great powers are the nations that best harness their economic potential to build up military strength. When they become overextended, the splurge of spending to sustain a strategic edge leaves more productive parts of the economy starved of capital, leading to inevitable decline.

That should be a worrying prospect for China, a would-be great power whose current phase of growth is associated with an increasingly aggressive military posture and a tsunami of capital spending in its strategic neighborhood.

People's Republic

China's labor force is forecast to decline in 2018 for the first time in five decades

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, Bloomberg Opinion calculations

Like the Soviet Union in the 1970s, China is coming to the end of a long labor-force boom, and hoping that an orgy of investment will keep the old magic going while stabilizing its fraying frontiers. The success or failure of its Belt and Road projects — and the still greater sums it’s spending domestically — will determine whether the nation achieves its dream of prosperity or succumbs to the same forces that doomed the U.S.S.R.

The conventional worry about the Belt and Road initiative — an open-ended framework for an estimated $1.5 trillion of infrastructure projects over the next decade across Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia — is that it will doom the recipients of its largess to a future as indebted clients of Beijing.

A Billion Here, a Billion There

The bulk of major Belt and Road projects are in Malaysia, South Asia and Indochina

Source: Nomura Securities, AIIB, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, news reports, Bloomberg Opinion calculations

Note: Indochina includes Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. We've broken Malaysia out separately and no projects in Vietnam are large enough to show on this chart.

Failed projects like Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port may indeed be a way for China to quietly extend its strategic power around the world. 1 But defaults on investments cause problems for creditors as well as debtors. The risk for President Xi Jinping is that the toll of all that misdirected spending gradually undermines the productivity growth on which China’s current might was built.

Consider some of the projects still on the drawing board. Think the $1.6 billion price tag Nomura Holdings Inc. has put on Hambantota looks excessive? Then check out Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, where Citic Group Corp. is leading the construction of a $9.6 billion deep-sea port and industrial zone to hook up with oil and gas pipelines built by China National Petroleum Corp.

There’s certainly a strategic logic here. China’s links to the western markets that consume its goods and the Middle Eastern countries it depends on for petroleum pass through a choke point in the straits of Singapore and Malacca, a worry for the country’s military planners. Building railways and pipelines to the Indian Ocean provides an alternative route west.

Put That in Your Pipe

Gas pipelines generally need to use at least half of their capacity to break even. The China-Myanmar pipeline has barely cracked one-third utilization since it opened in 2013

Source: China Customs General Administration, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Opinion calculations

Note: Complete trailing 12-month data starts in 2014, a year after the pipeline opened.

On the economics, however, the idea falls down. The gas pipeline to Kyaukpyu has barely run at one-third of capacity since it was inaugurated in 2013, and the parallel oil tube sat dry for years before the first cargo was loaded up last year — not a great return on the $2.5 billion spent building them. A 260,000 barrels-a-day processing plant at the end of the pipe in Kunming that’s about the size of the U.K.’s biggest oil refinery will be similarly underutilized unless more crude deliveries arrive at Kyaukpyu.

Or take the web of touted rail projects through central Asia which form a centerpiece of most maps of Belt and Road projects. As we’ve argued before, such plans misunderstand both the long history and basic economics of east-west trade, which has almost always been far more dependent on maritime transport via Southeast Asia, India and the Arabian Peninsula than on overland Silk Roads through the Eurasian steppe.

Go West, Young Man

Belt and Road projects off the Asian mainland in Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka constitute only a small portion of the total

Source: Nomura Securities; AIIB; China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; Bloomberg Opinion calculations

Note: There's no definitive accounting of Belt and Road projects, or which of the development belts identified projects belong to. We've attributed projects at the country level although (for instance), Myanmar's Kyaukpyu port could be considered part of the Maritime Silkroad rather than the China-Indochina belt.

The disadvantages of land transport are compounded these days by the existence of giant container ships capable of carrying almost $1 billion of cargo at a time, and the variety of different track gauges across Asia which require costly and time-consuming transfers.

The value of freight between Europe and Yiwu, a much-touted overland rail hub near Shanghai, came to 2.27 billion yuan ($330 million) in the first four months of this year, according to China Railway Express Co. That’s about one third of what you’d get on a single mega-container ship, and there are hundreds of somewhat smaller vessels plying east-west routes. China’s top four ports alone process about the same value of cargo every three hours.

I Must Go Down to the Sea

The overwhelming majority of China's trade with Europe is by sea and air. Overland routes don't cut it

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Note: 2016 data.
It’s worth considering all this misdirected spending in the context of the Soviet Union’s decline. Around the middle decades of the 20th century, Moscow presided over a China-style economic miracle that caused many in the West to fear they would be overtaken. In the 1950s, the Soviet economy grew faster than that of any other major country barring Japan.

There are many reasons this development path started to falter in the 1970s, including the rigidities of a planned economy, a plateau in industrial workforce numbers, and the vast sums dedicated to Cold War-era military spending. Still, it’s hard to tell the story of declining Soviet productivity without also considering its own Belt and Road initiative, the development of Siberia.

From the 1960s, Siberia sucked up about a third of the Soviet Union’s heavy-construction equipment despite hosting just a fraction of the country’s population, as Moscow pumped in capital to develop gas fields, coal mines, aluminum plants, and a duplicate of the Trans-Siberian railway several hundred kilometers to the north.

Hard Times

Productivity declines in oil, coal and steel in the 1970s and 1980s dragged down the performance of the entire Soviet economy

Source: Allen, Robert C., "The Rise and Decline of the Soviet Economy", 2001

“The development of Siberian natural resources was a vast sink for investment rubles,” as economist Robert C. Allen wrote in a 2001 paper, diverting spending from more attractive projects west of the Urals and eventually undermining the productivity of the economy as a whole. “The Soviet Union’s ‘abundant’ natural resources had become a curse,” he wrote. “Resource development swallowed up a large fraction of the investment budget for little increase in GDP.”

Could something similar happen in China? As with the U.S.S.R.’s strategic concerns about shoring up its eastern fringes, Beijing’s fears of separatism in its west have driven a surge in capital projects there in recent years, next to which Belt and Road projects look like merely the tip of the iceberg.

Crowding Out

The share of China's fixed capital formation going to its most-productive eastern regions has been in decline for a decade

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Opinion calculations

Western China accounted for about 19.5 percent of the country’s fixed capital formation in 2016, compared to 15.4 percent in its dynamic Tier One cities and Guangdong province. Less developed parts of central, northern and western China have swallowed up the bulk of fixed capital ever since 2007, according to official data.

That’s matched the end of China’s productivity miracle, too. Unit labor costs have outpaced productivity growth since 2008, meaning the economy has been growing less and less competitive over time, according to a report last month by the Conference Board, a research group. About 90 percent of China’s advantage over the U.S. in terms of unit labor costs in 2016 was explained by currency effects alone, economist Siqi Zhou wrote.

China’s anxiety about its western fringes has many troubling effects. Compared with the hundreds of thousands of Uighurs who’ve been sent to re-education camps and the millions more under constant surveillance in Xinjiang province, wasted capital on transport mega-projects may seem like a minor problem.

It’s not, though. In a country where reliable economic data is thin on the ground and the number of people in work is now in absolute decline, the toll of ill-conceived investments risks eating away at the foundations of growth.

China’s rise this century was driven by its embrace of world trade and the coastal provinces most exposed to it. In this retreat inland, it’s sowing the seeds of decline.