We’re eight days out out from Election Day, a reality which forms the somewhat-loose focus of this newsletter.
It has two basic parts.
Please take my October survey. It will close at 11:59 pm this Thursday, October 29, and the typical response time is only about 7 minutes.
This month’s survey asks essentially the same questions as last month’s, with the goal of seeing how the community is feeling. It also has a few questions about next week’s elections, for I’m curious to see how politically-representative of the community survey respondents are.
I’ll conduct a similar, post-election survey in November, giving me – and you – a sense of how the results have affected our views of the world.
Changes, and Not Just the Seasons
I’ve written an essay around the general theme of change, weaving together thoughts about national and local political races, local tourism dynamics, and how we might move beyond the weariness so many of us are feeling.
Thanks so much, stay healthy, and be sure to vote!
PS – Please be sure to take the survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VPRTCZL Please feel free to forward this link and/or this newsletter to others, and ask them to take the survey as well. And again, it closes at 11:59 MDT this Thursday, October 29 – don’t delay!
PPS – If you’re wondering: “What about the results of September’s survey?”, the answer is that, due to data glitches, I couldn’t get the results processed in a timely fashion. I’ll include that analysis with the results of the October survey.
Chaos and Constancy
Since COVID-19 hit, I’ve never had such a powerful sense of living through history.
In a related vein, since Donald Trump became president, my dream investment has been in a product that replenishes the human adrenal gland. The chaos that seems to be Mr. Trump’s stock-in-trade leaves me depleted, and I suspect I’m not alone in that.
COVID-19 has, of course, made matters worse. As I’ve noted before, COVID is like a vise, with its slowly-increasing pressure exposing our fault lines and creating new fissures. Add Mr. Trump and COVID together, and I’m guessing a whole lot of folks are feeling a whole lot of drained.
My fervent desire to move beyond this wretched state has led me to obsess on the presidential race. As I noted in my most recent e-newsletter, one way I’ve channeled that obsession is creating a spreadsheet tracking FiveThirtyEight.com’s daily forecast of the presidential race. And because I’m anal like that, I track not only the overall race, but FiveThirtyEight’s forecast for each state.
Why mention this? Because looking at the data between August 31 and October 25, what hit me was not chaos and upheaval, but instead a rather boring consistency.
Put simply, for the past eight weeks, the race has been marked by only two dynamics: Mr. Biden’s chances of winning have either stayed flat, or they’ve slowly grown.
In particular, as Graph 1 below shows, the last eight weeks of FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts can be divided into four phases:
- Mr. Biden’s chances on August 31 were 68%. 11 days later, they were 75%, a daily growth rate of 0.9%
- Mr. Biden’s chances on September 11 were 75%. 17 days later, they were 77%, a daily growth rate of 0.2%
- Mr. Biden’s chances on September 28 were 77%. 15 days later, they were 87%, a daily growth rate of 0.9%, the same as during Phase I
- Mr. Biden’s chances on October 13 were 87%. 13 days later, they remain at 87%, a daily growth rate of 0.0%
What’s really striking, though, is that the same pattern has occurred not just nationally, but in key swing states.
For example, two clusters of states are currently front-of-mind for those obsessing about the presidential race. The “Blue Wall” states are the three industrial states that traditionally vote for the Democrat, but which Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The ones I refer to as “Sunbelt States” are also ones Mr. Trump won in 2016, but are now considered in play: Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. Here’s what’s happened to each of them during the four phases.
- National: Mr. Biden’s lead grew at a daily rate of 0.9%
- Blue Wall: Mr. Biden’s lead grew at a daily rate of 1.0%
- Sunbelt: Mr. Biden’s lead grew at a daily rate of 1.2%
- National: 0.2%
- Blue Wall: 0.1%
- Sunbelt: -0.2%
- National: 0.8%
- Blue Wall: 0.5%
- Sunbelt: 1.5%
- National: 0.0%
- Blue Wall: 0.0%
- Sunbelt: -0.4%
Add all this together, and my big takeaway is that things have been remarkably stable. And unless Mr. Trump, that consummate shaker-upper, can shake things up so powerfully in the last week of the campaign that he can win all six of these states and several more, then the calm, methodical tortoise that is Mr. Biden’s campaign will end up prevailing over the chaotic hare that is Mr. Trump’s.
Which leads into local politics.
The Nationalization of Local Politics?
The Jackson Town Council is comprised of a mayor and four councilmembers. The mayor’s spot and two of the four council seats are up this year (my term expires in two years). As won’t surprise you, I’m watching both races closely.
Which is why, the other day, I was surprised to see ads for local candidates on the website Politico. Specifically, I saw a series of rotating ads for one of the two mayoral candidates (Michael Kudar) and two of the four town council candidates (Jim Rooks and Devon Viehman). All three ads were well done and shared a similar look and feel, and obviously I was seeing them because of some algorithm targeting my location and demographic.
My first reaction was how much things had changed in just the past two years. When I ran in 2018, I put ads on Facebook and Instagram at the suggestion of some millennial friends. But I never conceived of placing ads on a national news platform like Politico, much less other news websites. Yet in the past 48 hours, I’ve seen this same cluster of town council candidate ads on the sites of the middle-of-the-road Newsweek, the ultra-liberal San Francisco Chronicle, and the ultra-conservative Manchester (NH) Union Leader.
What really knocked my socks off, though, was that the ads were not paid for by the candidates. Instead, in itty-bitty letters, each ad featured the disclaimer that the ad was paid for by Turning Point Action, a non-profit political advocacy group affiliated with the deeply conservative Turning Point America. The disclaimer also noted “(this ad) is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”
Extremely curious, I reached out to all three candidates, each of whom told me they didn’t know the ads were running.
I also reached out to Jackson Hole resident Foster Friess, who provided seed funding for Turning Point America and is on both its Honorary Board and its Advisory Council. I did so because I wanted to know how a council race in a town of 10,000 could attract the attention of a national political advocacy group. Foster, too, said he didn’t know.
Absent any other information, I assume Turning Point Action’s involvement in our local race is an extension of its involvement in robocalls and other mass outreach this summer when rumors were flying about the town council defunding Jackson’s police. Then, too, I tried to figure out how Turning Point Action became involved in the affairs of a small Wyoming town; then, too, I hit only dead ends.
Why mention this? Because my sense-cum-dread is that Turning Point Action’s efforts will, in hindsight, be looked upon as a watershed moment in Jackson Hole’s political history, the time when local campaigns pivoted from being homey, retail affairs to ones increasingly nationalized in both money and message. Should this occur, it will be a real tragedy, for reasons ranging from increased divisiveness to the likelihood it will further discourage people from running. I so hope I’m wrong; I so fear I’m right.
Farewell Fall Off-Season?
Speaking of watersheds, this may be the year when we look back and say “2020 was when we lost the autumnal off-season.”
Here’s what I mean.
For August 1 – October 11, Graph 2 shows the 7 day average of traffic entering Yellowstone National Park from the park’s South Gate; i.e. from Jackson Hole. The lighter red line shows the 2019 counts, the darker red line shows the 2020 counts, and the pink bars show each day’s growth between 2019 and 2020.
Two things jump out.
First, between September 2019 and September 2020, the South Gate’s seven day average daily traffic count increased 38%. It increased literaly every day – by a minimum of 24%, and on one day by a whopping 72%. As a result, even though historically August is Yellowstone’s second-busiest month, in September 2020 28 percent more vehicles entered Yellowstone from Jackson Hole than entered in August 2019.
Building on this theme, in August 2019, the busiest daily traffic count was 1,726. In comparison, every day in September 2020 exceeded the August 2019 count. Further, October 2020’s first 11 days were 119% ahead of October 2019’s first 11 days.
The rest of Yellowstone also saw increased traffic this fall, but nothing like the numbers seen at the South Gate.
And it’s not just cars. As Graph 3 shows, the Jackson Hole Airport’s private jet flight count hit 50 on just one day in September 2019 . In September 2020, there were at least 57 private jet flights every day, and eight consecutive days had between 71-75 flights.
Further, during the first 11 days of October, October 11 was the only day with fewer than 50 private jet flights from the Jackson Hole Airport – on that day the number dipped to 49.
Tying all this together, here’s what I’ve concluded.
My point of departure is that I’m weary. Most folks I know are weary too. Sadly, because of the realities of calendar, weather, and viral transmission, it’s likely that one of the root causes of our collective weariness – COVID-19 – will be with us for a while.
I take solace in a couple of thoughts, though.
First, I find it easier to deal with a problem if I can understand it. Collectively, for four years we’ve been dealing with a national political environment disproportionately shaped by someone who cultivates chaos. For the most recent eight months, that upheaval has been amplified by COVID-19, which has completely disrupted every facet of our lives, individually and collectively.
Locally, all this has been compounded by crazy increases in tourism, which the community and region have had to handle with fewer resources than normal. And it can’t be helping things that, as evidenced by huge spikes in both private jet traffic and high-end real estate prices, there seems to be a tidal wave of money pouring into Jackson Hole. This only amplifies the pressure felt by the bulk of the region’s residents who aren’t wealthy.
To add the final soupçon of craziness, all this stress seems to be spilling over into our local political races, which are proving to be as fraught and frayed as our times.
Second, I also find it easier to deal with a problem if I know there’s an end in sight. In this case things are tricky, for COVID-19 and its attendant baggage are likely to be with us for a while.
But with the onset of winter weather, it seems likely that the valley’s tourism crush will soon let up, giving us all a bit of respite. And even if the results aren’t known until a day or three after November 3, the additional pressure created by the election will, one way or another, soon be behind us.
Finally, barring something extraordinarily weird occurring – which, granted, we should probably expect – if the FiveThirtyEight numbers are reliable, the epicenter of national chaos will soon be gone.
Which leads into my final point.
I love my community, my country, my planet. Yet for far too often during the past four years, America has seemed like an exceptionally alien place to me. We Americans have not just thought and spoken and behaved in ways that strike me as un-American, but we’ve seemed to embrace those who’ve taken that approach.
Given this, my hope is that, once the election is behind us, our collective fever will break, and we’ll start to recover from the crazed delirium that’s ravaged and depleted and contorted us the past four years. We won’t recover at once, of course – it takes time to get over being really sick. But my further hope is that as we do improve, we’ll look back on this past stretch and ask ourselves: “What just happened? We had to be very ill indeed, because that’s not who we are – as individuals or society.”
Will this happen? I don’t know. But where are we without our dreams?
Please take my October survey.
It will close at 11:59 pm this Thursday, October 29
The typical response time is only about 7 minutes.
CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY