יום שני, 30 באפריל 2018

Meet the pro-Trump PR Guy at the Center of the Mueller Probe — And Everything Else

Ronn Torossian.

Ronn Torossian got his start representing hip pop stars, but now has ties to some of the most scrutinized parts of the Trump orbit.

What do the Mueller probe, the Eric Trump Foundation, Sinclair Broadcasting, Girls Gone Wild, Israel, Turkey, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow all have in common?

Earlier this month, the hard-charging New York PR man caught Washington’s notice first when he announced in an op-ed that he had testified about his abortive dealings with Paul Manafort to a Washington grand jury convened by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and then again when he emerged as the face of Sinclair Broadcasting’s caustic PR counteroffensive to charges that it forces affiliates to air pro-Trump propaganda.

These were not Ronn Torossian’s first brushes with Trump-era politics, and they won’t be his last. Over the last decade and a half, the 43-year-old Torossian has made himself perhaps the most prominent practitioner of a brass-knuckled form of public relations, sought out for his relentless work ethic and his ruthlessness—especially when anyone gets in his way.

“Ronn is a guy who doesn’t like being crossed,” explains Jules Feiler, a former colleague. Torossian’s penchant for feuding is such that a few calls around the public relations industry leads to a 150-page book of opposition research on him with a timeline that begins at birth, the sort of document more commonly compiled by the opponents of a presidential candidate.

In addition to that rare distinction, he has also achieved — by dint of sheer hustle and willingness to take on colorful clients — a sort of ubiquity in the incestuous world of Trump’s friends, relatives and advisers. “He’s the hardest-working man in the PR business,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a wise man of New York’s politics and media who knows both Trump and Torossian. “And if you move quick, you wind up everyplace.”

Trump’s invasion of Washington has catapulted the folkways, feuds and notable figures of Midtown Manhattan into the center of the national political scene, bringing Torossian—the publicist the New York Times once dubbed “one of the New Yorkiest practitioners of this quintessentially New York profession”—along for the ride, just as his scorched-earth approach to the press is coming into vogue.

“In a business where people really aren’t gentlemen, he’s a knave. So what?” says Sheinkopf. “He’s the kind of guy you want in a fight and he’s the future of PR, which I don’t think will be about being nice.”


Few have ever accused Torossian — who declined to comment on the record —of being too nice. His reputation for courting controversy is such that, like “the Donald” before him, Torossian finds himself practically on a first name basis with the New York tabloids. “Ronn is being suedd,” declared the New York Daily News, on one of the several occasions on which the publicist has been the target of a lawsuit. In this case it was a former romantic partner of his late mother accusing him of libel. That was in 2013, by which point he had been honing his hard-ball techniques for a long time.

Israel was Torossian’s gateway to PR. Born in 1974 and raised Jewish by a single mother in the Bronx, as a boy Torossian came under the tutelage of Avi Weiss, a prominent “open Orthodox” rabbi and prolific organizer of protests related to Jewish causes. As an adolescent, he became involved with Betar, a Zionist youth movement with ties to Israel’s Likud party, and traveled the world to protest with Weiss. In 1994, the rabbi and Torossian descended on Norway to protest the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Yasir Arafat. The pair was arrested and briefly detained in Oslo.

As a student at the State University of New York at Albany, Torossian gained his own notoriety as an energetic activist. In 1995, when Pat Buchanan — long accused of anti-Semitism — announced his second presidential bid at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Torossian rushed the stage. Later that year he showed up at the Million Man March to protest Louis Farrakhan, and was removed from federal land by the National Park Police.

In those years, Torossian became close to Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein, an ally of Trump’s hawkish new national security adviser, John Bolton. Klein considers himself an admirer of Torossian’s no-holds-barred approach. “I want someone who’s strong and committed and doing everything he can to expose the truth of the Arab war against Israel,” he says. “Ronn Torossian understands the truth of the Arab-Islamic war against Israel and the West better than anyone.”

Not everyone shares that sentiment. In a 2008 article, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force who is now the magazine’s editor-in-chief, recounted a conversation with Torossian about Palestinian terrorism in which the flack opined, “I think we should kill a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill.” Goldberg described Torossian’s proposal as a “Nazi idea.”

When it came time to choose a career, Torossian was wary of the debt load of a law school degree and the paltry pay in journalism. Instead, he entered public relations, where he figured his willingness to constantly hustle would give him a competitive edge. In 2000, Torossian joined PR Firm MWW and in 2003 he struck out on his own, founding 5W Public relations. His early roster of clients was heavy on right-wing Israeli politicians and evangelical preachers.

Hip-hop stars were another staple of his early client roster and a good fit for his brash approach. Torossian had played in a recreational basketball league – his team was captained by future CNN host Chris Cuomo – that included a Bad Boy Records team. He got to know Sean “Diddy” Combs, who became an early client along with Lil’ Kim, who relied on Torossian’s services when she was tried and convicted of perjury related to a 2001 shooting.

Other clients over the years have included Maira Nazarbayeva, ex-sister-in-law to Kazakhstan’s autocratic leader (Sample headline: “I’m not wanted by Interpol”), Payday lender Cane Bay Partners, the “Shake Weight” exercise contraption, Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the rapper Pitbull and the heavyweight boxer turned mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko. For Klitschko, Torossian hosted a 2008 meeting at his office with Rudolph Giuliani, who went on to appear in Kiev with the boxer ahead of that year’s mayoral vote and, more recently, joined Trump’s legal team this month promising to end the Mueller probe.

From the start, Torossian took a liking to crisis communications, an area of PR that rewards a fast-paced, aggressive style and demands a willingness to take on controversial clients. When Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis pleaded no contest to filming underage girls in the nude a decade ago, he turned to Torossian for help rehabbing his image. When Chuck Grassley announced a Senate investigation of six televangelists for possible financial crimes in 2007, four of them were Torossian’s clients.

One of those clients was Israeli televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn. Later, Hinn appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” to respond to accusations of fraud. During the segment, Torossian, sitting off camera, repeatedly interrupted the interview to berate ABC News reporter Dan Harris. Even Torossian’s client found the outbursts a bit much. “Ronn, Ronn that’s not important,” Hinn protested when Torossian castigated the reporter for not asking about Hinn’s book.

Harris, though, was impressed, telling AdWeek after the episode aired: “That frequency and aggression of interruption I have not seen personally before.”


Before long, Torossian was making a name for himself and cutting a familiar figure — head shaved, necktie optional, ears slightly protruding — on the New York social circuit. But more often than not he was drawing attention for stumbling into the sorts of conflicts and controversies he was supposed be helping his clients navigate — a crisis PR man who often found himself ensnared in PR crises of his own making.
That year, blogger Shmarya Rosenberg caught Torossian’s firm engaging in sock puppetry -- posting online comments under assumed identities -- in defense of Iowa-based Kosher meat magnate Sholom Rubashkin, who would soon be convicted in federal court on dozens of fraud and money laundering charges. A 5W PR executive told Rosenberg that an unnamed, “unpaid intern” left the comments. (In December, Trump commuted the remainder of Rabaskin’s sentence, the first time he has exercised that particular presidential power).

Such antics caught the notice of Gawker reporter Hamilton Nolan, who for a period beginning a decade ago regularly and derisively covered Torossian’s doings.

At one point, Nolan published an email from Torossian to his estranged former director of human resources with the subject line, “YOU STUPID CUNT.”

In response to all the coverage, Torossian bought the domain name HamiltonNolan.com. Torossian was reportedly also in the habit of buying the domain names for rival publicists and redirecting visitors to them to his firm’s own website. That tactic inspired another publicist to buy RonnTorossian.com and put a picture of a feminine hygiene product whose name is also used to describe an obnoxious person on it, which in turn prompted Torossian to sue the man for $20 million. The case settled without money changing hands.

Other legal imbroglios have been more serious. Before he was elected to Congress from Long Island, Michael Grimm and his close associate Ofer Biton, an Israeli entrepreneur, were also fixtures at the 5W offices, according to a person who saw them there.

In 2011, allegations emerged that Torossian and Biton were extorting a prominent Kabbalah rabbi, Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, threatening to expose Pinto’s financial malfeasance in the press until he put Torossian on retainer. Torossian has denied the existence of any such scheme and was never charged with a crime.

But allegations also emerged that Biton helped steer donations from the rabbi’s followers to Grimm. Eventually, Pinto, Grimm and Biton would all go to jail (Grimm has emerged to run for his old House seat with the endorsement of Steve Bannon).

The Pinto saga, and Torossian’s alleged role in it, was covered in detail in a 2014 New York magazine investigation. Torossian was furious with the story. But soon, he would even the score.

A few months after the Pinto story ran, New York ran a piece about a student at Stuyvesant High School — Torossian’s alma mater — who claimed to have made $72 million trading stocks in his free time, and quoted one of the student’s friends corroborating the tale.

But their story was a ruse. Torossian knew the family of the friend, and the day after the New York piece ran, he delivered both boys for to Jared Kushner’s Observer for an exclusive interview, bragging about how they had duped the magazine and trashing its editorial standards.

New York won’t comment on the matter. The author of the original New York magazine piece, Jessica Pressler, had been offered a job at BusinessWeek, but BusinessWeek rescinded its offer in response to the episode.

Evidently, Torossian did not feel the need to burn any bridges over the dust-up. “He still pitches me all the time,” says Pressler, forwarding a recent email release from Torossian plugging a company that bills itself as “co-working for grownups.”

The Pinto saga also led Torossian into a feud with the rabbi’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. In an op-ed in the Observer, Torossian highlighted statutory rape claims made against Dershowitz by an anonymous plaintiff in court proceedings. (Dershowitz denies the claim, and settled the dispute in 2016.) Dershowitz — now an unofficial legal adviser to Trump — responded at the time by calling Torossian a “despicable human being.” He declined to comment on the record about Torossian to POLITICO.

Meanwhile, Torossian has continued to keep the courts busy as both a plaintiff and defendant.

Several times a year, his firm files suits against clients that have allegedly skipped out on their bills.

In 2013, the long-term partner of his late mother sued Torossian for libel. Torossian and the man, Dror Zoreff, had been feuding over his mother’s possessions when anonymous false accusations that Zoreff was a “slimeball crook” and “under active investigation” began surfacing on the internet, according to the complaint. Zoreff traced some of the posts to an IP address associated with Torossian, according to the complaint. The case eventually settled.

That same year, a former employee with the maiden name of “Greenberg” sued Torossian, claiming he had hired her under the assumption she was Jewish and that when he learned that she was not, he “embarked upon a relentless campaign of hostile and abusive treatment” in order to drive her out of the company. The case settled in 2015.

It would not be the last time Torossian got caught up in the fraught politics of surnames. Last year, as Mueller was bearing down on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for failing to register his work on behalf of Turkey, Torossian filed his own FARA declaration disclosing his work for Erdogan’s government.

Torossian’s true allegiance remains Israel—before going on the Turkish government’s payroll, he had helped organize a 2010 protest outside the Turkish consulate in New York following a lethal confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Turkish activists on a ship sailing for Gaza, for instance. Yet the news of a Torossian working for the Turkish government—which continues to deny the existence of the Armenian genocide—outraged many Armenian-Americans. Though Torossian’s father is Armenian, he explained in a November email exchange with a columnist for the Armenian Weekly, “I am Jewish. I am American born and raised in a Jewish home, and proudly educate my children in Jewish day schools. I do not and never have considered myself to be Armenian.”

He made sure to add a typically Torossian barb: “You are conducting a comical, ridiculous, and destructive ugly litmus test.”


Torossian does not brawl with everybody. For one, he tends to get along with Russians, a group that includes his ex-wife, Zhanna.
Years ago, Jody Kriss, a former executive at Bayrock Group, the co-developer of Trump SoHo, found himself locked in a vicious legal and public relations battle with Bayrock managing director Felix Sater — Trump’s Russian-born former business adviser with a background in organized crime and an undercover career helping the U.S. government hunt terrorists — over allegations that Sater had fraudulently hidden his criminal past from his business partners. Anonymous websites had been popping up smearing Kriss as a crook and a liar, and Kriss turned to a friend for advice.

“I know someone who could help you with this,” the friend told Kriss, and got Torossian on the phone.

Torossian was ready to take on Kriss as a client, until he learned that Sater was the adversary. “Stop right there,” Kriss recalls Torossian telling his friend. “I’ve got a conflict.”

Torossian was already working for Sater who, it turns out, was impressed with his handiwork. “At the highest level of intensity that any client may have, Ronn is still 10 times more intense,” says Sater, a man who himself once stabbed another man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass and reportedly helped turn the personal secretary to the head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, into a U.S. intelligence source, among other purported exploits.

Since then, Sater has emerged as a key figure in the Trump-Russia affair, even before a late 2015 email surfaced last year from Sater to Trump’s attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen in which Sater promised that Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin could help get Trump elected president and build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Over the years, Trump has sought to distance himself from Sater, even claiming once under oath that he would not recognize Sater if the two were in the same room together—even though Sater worked for years out of an office in Trump Tower, carried a Trump Organization business card describing him as a “senior adviser to Donald Trump” and escorted Trump’s children during a trip to Moscow, where he claimed to have given Ivanka Trump special access to Vladimir Putin’s personal chair inside the Kremlin.

Torossian, on the other hand, flaunts his association with Sater, and recently posted pictures with him on social media. Over the years the two men have also become close friends, and Sater -- a man sitting on an inordinate number of secrets -- describes Torossian as a “confidant.”

Torossian is also friendly with Cohen. They both haunt the same circuit of upscale midtown restaurants -- the Four Seasons, Nobu Fifty Seven and the Loews Regency, where the FBI recently raided Cohen’s hotel room, among them. And it would appear they share the same appetite for risk: Torossian first got to know Cohen through pharmaceutical billionaire Stewart Rahr, Trump pal and early Torossian client, and then through another client, “Taxi King” Gene Freidman.

Torossian’s exploits with Freidman, a Bill de Blasio donor, go beyond basic PR work, extending to social ties and political escapades.

In 2014, the New York Post spotted Torossian and the Leningrad-born Freidman praying for peace in Ukraine at a wedding at a Brighton Beach steakhouse along with Alfa Bank co-founder and Russian oligarch Mikhail Friedman – whose relationship with Putin figures in the largely unverified “Steele dossier” – and New York attorney Ed Mermelstein, who often represents wealthy Russians.

In 2015, with New York City in the midst of a nasty falling out with the NYPD over policing practices, Freidman and Torossian convened a meeting between De Blasio and Ed Mullins, the head of one of the city’s police unions, at Freidman’s Upper East Side home. The meeting preceded a thaw in relations between the mayor and the police.

Months later Freidman’s wife threw him out of the house where the meeting had taken place, and Cohen reportedly arranged for Freidman to instead live in an apartment owned by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at Trump Park Avenue.

Last year Freidman was indicted on fraud and larceny charges related to his taxi business. He spent four weeks in jail for contempt of court starting in December. Freidman reportedly managed a fleet of taxis owned by Cohen, and their relationship has come under scrutiny of late on the news that the FBI’s interest in Cohen is related in part on his taxi business.

Unrelated to all this or to his work for the Tukrish government, Manafort and his lieutenant Rick Gates allegedly approached Torossian in 2012 and asked him to take money from offshore accounts to perform undisclosed lobbying work for the government of Ukraine, an offer Torossian has said he rejected. It was this episode that landed Torossian in front of a grand jury to delivery testimony in December.

Despite testifying against Trump’s former campaign chairman and deputy chairman, in his Daily Caller op-ed recounting the experience Torossian described Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” that deserves to be shut down. Readers should take his word for it, at least according to his lawyer friend Mermelstein, who describes Torossian as “one of the most trustworthy people I know.”


Torossian’s numerous other ties to Trumpworld span the professional, the political and the personal. He sends his children to the same New York private school that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s children attended before the family decamped for Washington. And in August, when POLITICO revealed numerous allegations of financial misconduct against Moshe Lax, a former close business partner of Ivanka Trump’s who first introduced her to Kushner, Lax turned to Torossian to make a video statement in response.

What about the man who first introduced the president to the first lady? That would be Paolo Zampolli, an Italian playboy and modeling agent turned ambassador to the United Nations from the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica, who played matchmaker to Donald to Melania in 1998. He’s pals with Torossian, too—Zampolli describes him as a “unique character” and a “mastermind.” Last month, before Torossian embarked on his recent anti-CNN crusade for Sinclair, he stopped by Zampolli’s Union Square townhouse for the diplomat’s 48th birthday party, where party favors included T-shirts with a mock CNN logo that instead said, “Fake News Network.”

Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, the dirty trickster Roger Stone, has done work with Torossian, too, and once delivered a speech at 5W’s offices. And before he was Stone’s protege, future Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, while on the payroll of Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law & Justice, regularly worked out of 5W’s offices in 2009 and 2010.

In 2014, as Trump was courting grassroots Republican activists, Torossian brokered a meeting between Jenny Beth Martin and Lynn Bradshaw of the Tea Party Patriots, then a client, and Cohen. In June of that year, Bradshaw scored a meeting with Trump himself in his office.

Despite his extensive ties to Trump world, Torossian gave $2,700 to Hillary Clinton in June 2016 and did not give to Trump’s campaign. (The Trumps apparently did not take it personally. After Forbes exposed a number of financial irregularities at the Eric Trump Foundation, the foundation brought on Torossian to deal with the press.)

If the travails of Trump did not keep him busy enough, Torossian has also kept himself in the middle of a number of other recent political and media controversies.

Last year, when the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar found itself under a Trump-endorsed blockade by its Sunni Arab neighbors, it turned to Republican strategist Nick Muzin. Anticipating backlash to the work from supporters of Israel, Muzin then turned to Torossian for PR help. Though as recently as 2015 Torossian had blasted a U.S. firm that worked for Qatar as a “D.C. PR Agency for Sharia Law,” he took on work defending Muzin in September, though the engagement was apparently short-lived.

Another recent client is Olivet University, a California Bible college with close ties to the owners of Newsweek that is under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement. In February, with Torossian handling Olivet’s PR, Newsweek fired three of its own journalists for reporting on the matter.

So it is unsurprising that earlier this month, when the Trump-aligned Sinclair Broadcast Group, finding itself under fire for forcing affiliates to air Trump-like segments decrying “fake news,” it called in Torossian to turn the tables on its critics.

Sinclair produced a four-minute video taking aim at specifically CNN and anchor Brian Stelter. A disapproving Torossian drove the stake deeper, releasing a statement in conjunction with the video that called the cable news network “hypocritical and shameful.”


Through all of the scrapping and pitching, Torossian has clawed his way to success. His firm has grown considerably, boasting a stable of corporate clients that includes Unilever and Walgreens and claiming $28 million in revenue last year. He has also branched out into other successful business ventures.

Most notably, along with the rapper Jay-Z, he is a backer of JetSmarter, a fast-growing startup that bills itself as the Uber of private jets. He’s also its chief business officer. Last Februrary, Jetsmarter’s president, Gennady Barsky, was arrested and is facing grand theft charges in California for allegedly embezzling $12 million. Following his arrest, Barsky resigned from the company, which nonetheless appears to be headed for a future IPO.

All of the success has enabled more genteel pursuits. Torossian is a collector of art and enjoys spending time in the south of France, Israel and the Hamptons. He is also a longtime believer in hypnotism, acupuncture and meditation.

After all these years and all the fights, the zen might finally be getting to him. Earlier this week, it was reported that Torossian turned down the chance to represent the perenially scandal-plagued musician R. Kelly.

יום שבת, 21 באפריל 2018

Prisoners of the American Dream


With inequality increasing, many around the world might assume that Americans would want to close the income gap by instituting a more progressive system of redistribution. But the opposite is true: Americans’ perceptions of privilege, opportunity, and social mobility contrast markedly with views elsewhere.

CAMBRIDGE – Given worsening economic inequality in the United States, many observers might assume that Americans would want to reduce income differences by instituting a more progressive tax system. That assumption would be wrong because, in December, the US Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that will, at least in the short term, disproportionately benefit higher-income households.

Despite their country’s mounting income gap, Americans’ support for redistribution has, according to the General Social Survey, remained flat for decades. Perhaps John Steinbeck got it right when he supposedly said that, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

For those who believe that a society should offer its members equal opportunity, and that anyone who works hard can climb higher on the socioeconomic ladder, redistribution is unnecessary and unfair. After all, equal opportunists argue, if everyone begins at the same starting point, a bad outcome must be due to an individual’s own missteps.

This view approximates that of a majority of Americans. According to the World Values Survey, 70% of Americans believe that the poor can make it out of poverty on their own. This contrasts sharply with attitudes in Europe, where only 35% believe the same thing. Put another way, most Europeans consider the poor unfortunate, while most Americans consider them indolent. This may be one reason why European countries support more generous – and costlier – welfare transfers than the US.

Americans have deep-seated, optimistic views about social mobility, opinions that are rooted in US history and bolstered by narratives of rags-to-riches immigrants. But today, Americans’ beliefs about social mobility are based more on myth than on fact.

According to survey research that colleagues and I recently conducted and analyzed, Americans estimate that among children in the lowest income bracket, 12% will make it to the top bracket by the time they retire. Americans also believe that with hard work, only 22% of children in poverty today will remain there as adults.

The actual numbers are 8% and 33%, respectively. In other words, Americans overestimate upward social mobility and underestimate the likelihood of remaining stuck in poverty for generations. They also believe that if everyone worked hard, the American Dream of self-made success would hew closer to reality.

European respondents are more pessimistic about mobility: unlike Americans, they overestimate the odds of remaining in poverty. For example, French, Italian, and British respondents said, respectively, that 35%, 34%, and 38% of low-income children will remain poor, when the reality is that 29%, 27%, and 31% will.

Views about social mobility are not uniform across the political spectrum or across geographic regions. In both the US and Europe, for example, people who call themselves “conservative” on matters of economic policy believe that there are equal opportunities for all children, and that the free-market economy in their country is fair.

The opposite holds true for those who call themselves economically “liberal.” These people favor government intervention, because they believe that, left to their own devices, markets will not ensure fairness, and may even generate more inequality.

An even more striking pattern is that Americans are overly optimistic about social mobility in parts of the country where actual mobility is low – including the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In these states, respondents believe that mobility is more than two times greater than it is. By contrast, respondents underestimate social mobility in northern states – including Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington – where it is higher.

As part of our study, we shared data on social stratification in Europe and America with our participants. We found that self-identified liberals and conservatives interpreted this information differently. When shown pessimistic information about mobility, for example, liberals became even more supportive of redistributive policies, such as public education and universal health care.

Conservatives, by contrast, remained unmoved. While they acknowledged that low social mobility is economically limiting, they remained as averse to government intervention and redistribution as they were before we shared the data with them.

Part of the reason for conservatives’ reaction, I believe, is mistrust. Many conservatives hold government in deep disdain; only 17% of conservative voters in the US and Europe say they can trust their country’s political leaders. The share of conservatives with an overall negative view of government was 80%; among liberals, it was closer to 50%. Moreover, a high percentage of conservatives say the best way to reduce inequality is to lower taxes on businesses and people.

But suspicion of government may also stem from a belief that political systems are rigged, and that politicians can’t or won’t improve things because they have become “captured” by entrenched interests, mired in legislative stalemate, or stymied by bureaucracy. In short, when conservatives learn that social mobility is lower than they thought, they believe government is the problem, not the solution. As J.D. Vance noted in his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, many on the American right now believe that “it’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

We may be so polarized in the US and Europe that, even after receiving the same information, we respond in opposite ways. The left will want more government, and the right will want less. Clearly, reality is not so neat. But what is clear is that people’s views about social mobility have as much to do with ideology and geography as with their circumstances.

יום שישי, 20 באפריל 2018

Republicans And Democrats Should Be Worried About 2020

A new projection of the voting population shows demographic problems for Republicans and Electoral College problems for Democrats

The electorate in 2020 is likely to be similar to 2016’s. This should worry people in both parties — for different reasons, of course.

Our poll of the week is not technically one poll, but an in-depth study that looks at the changing demographics of the U.S. electorate and how those shifts are likely to affect future presidential elections. The study was a joint project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress and the Public Religion Research Institute, all think tanks based in Washington, D.C.

Using U.S. Census Bureau and other data, the authors of the study project that the eligible voting population in 2020 will break down like this:
44 percent white people without college degrees (down from 46 percent in 20161
23 percent white people with college degrees (compared to 22 percent in 2016)
13 percent black people (12 percent in 2016)
13 percent Latinos (12 percent in 2016)
8 percent people who are either Asian or another race or ethnicity that is not black, white or Latino (7 percent in 2016)

Those numbers are good for Democrats and bad for Republicans in the sense that the parts of the electorate that are expected to increase by 2020 (non-whites and white people with college degrees) are generally much more supportive of Democrats. In 2016, according to exit polls, Donald Trump won among white people without degrees by 37 percentage points and among white people with degrees by just 3 points. He lost among non-white people by 53 points.

At first glance, the projected growth of white people with college degrees and non-white people in the electorate seems fairly small. But it’s building on a longer-term trend that is helping Democrats. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of college graduates and non-white people in the U.S. electorate has increased while the share of whites without college degrees has decreased. And in that period (1997 through 2017), the Republican candidate has lost the popular vote in four out of five presidential elections2 (in 2000 and 2016, Republicans won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote).

Indeed, the report’s authors argue that this slight shift in the projected makeup of eligible voters by 2020 would have tipped the 2016 election toward Hillary Clinton. Basically, if you rerun the 2016 election — if the various voting blocs backed Democrats and Republicans at the same percentages as in 2016 and turnout stayed the same by group — but you use the projected 2020 population, these small increases in the number of minorities and college-educated voters and the decline of white-working class voters would turn Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from very narrow GOP wins to similarly narrow Democratic wins, according to the authors. Clinton would have won the Electoral College if she had carried those three states.

But, of course, demographics are not destiny — they never have been. There are problems in these projections for Democrats, too:
The population of eligible voters is less diverse than the U.S. population overall (the latter is about 39 percent non-white, while the pool of potential 2020 voters is projected to be about 33 percent non-white).
In 2020, almost half the electorate (44 percent of voters) is projected to belong to a demographic (white and working class) that now overwhelmingly backs Republicans. These voters were about equally split between the two parties as recently as the 1990s.
Non-white people are a huge swath of the electorate in some states, but not in many others. In 2020, white people are projected to make up more than 80 percent of the electorate in 23 states, according to this study. Non-white people are expected to be more than 40 percent of the electorate in just six states (California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico and Texas) and Washington, D.C., by that point.

And the dynamic of a country gradually becoming less white while some states stay very white is likely to endure beyond 2020. Even in 2036, when the researchers think that about 41 percent of the electorate nationally will be non-white, they project that 11 states will have an eligible voter population that is more than 80 percent white.

Again, demographics are not destiny, in the short or long term. Democrats could reverse their slide among whites without college degrees. Republican candidates could become more popular with Asian, black and Latino voters. Maybe a strong Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, particularly with Trump’s soft approval ratings, can improve Democrats’ performance among non-white voters, white people with college degrees and white people without college degrees all at the same time. It’s difficult to see Trump altering these demographic trends, but perhaps a future GOP presidential candidate could. Moreover, focusing only on the demographic makeup of the electorate ignores turnout, and Republican-leaning groups tend to turn out to vote at higher rates than Democratic-leaning groups.3

But this study underlines two broad truths in today’s U.S. politics. The Democrats need to do a better job wooing white working-class voters and getting more blacks to the polls (black populations are larger than Asian or Latino ones in states like Michigan and Ohio that have a lot of Electoral College votes). If they don’t, they’ll have a problem winning states in the middle of the country and therefore the Electoral College. At the same time, Republicans have a huge problem with non-white voters that imperils their ability to win national elections and should not be ignored because of Trump’s victory in 2016.

The authors of this study, in looking at the parties’ demographic coalitions, wrote that “quite a few future scenarios could mimic the result of the 2016 election — a Democratic win in the popular vote with a Republican win in the Electoral College.” That is really bad news for Democrats, but hardly a great place for the GOP to be in either: trying to lead a country where a plurality of voters voted for the other party.
Other polling nuggets
A new Marist poll found that Republicans are beginning to view Robert Mueller’s investigation less favorably. The share of Republicans who have an unfavorable view of Mueller increased from 30 percent (in a March poll) to 49 percent. The share of Republicans who think the investigation is fair decreased from 30 percent to 22 percent. That said, the percentage of Republicans who believe that the special counsel should be fired remained steady at about 25 percent.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a strong challenge from Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke according to a new Quinnipiac poll, which shows Cruz leading 47 percent to 44 percent.
On Tuesday, voters in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District will cast ballots on Tuesday to replace Republican Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned after he was accused of offering an aide $5 million to impregnate her. While one April poll found the Republican candidate, Debbie Lesko, ahead of Democrat Hiral Tipirneni by 10 points, two other polls — one independent and one conducted for the Tipirneni campaign — found a tied race.
A Morning Consult poll found that 66 percent of registered voters in the U.S. supported the airstrikes that the U.S., UK and France launched on Syria, but 57 percent said they weren’t confident that the attack would prevent the Syrian government from using chemical weapons again.
A YouGov poll conducted after the strike on Syria found that 27 percent of adults believe the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in that country; many more — 49 percent — said they think the U.S. should do something about Syria’s “alleged use of chemical weapons.”
68 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats support tougher sanctions against Russia, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.
A SurveyMonkey poll found that 78 percent of Republicans support President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, but half still think that free trade agreements help the U.S. economy.
75 percent of white evangelical Protestants have a favorable view of Trump, according to a new PRRI survey. That’s the best number for Trump with that group since PRRI started asking the question in 2015.
A SurveyMonkey poll found that 49 percent of Mississippi residents consider their state’s economy either “very bad” or “fairly bad,” compared with only 28 percent in Southern states more broadly.4 Sixty-two percent of Mississippians said they were willing to pay more taxes to fund better infrastructure.
81 percent of Canadians think the U.S. decision to remove net neutrality was a bad one, and 72 percent are concerned that it could increase costs of web-based services for Canadians, according to a poll by the Angus Reid Institute.
Despite being jailed on corruption-related charges, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva remains the front-runner in polls to win another term in the election scheduled for October.
Trump’s approval rating

Trump’s job approval rating is 40.2 percent; his disapproval rating is 54.2 percent. Last week, his approval rating was 40.6 percent, compared with a disapproval rating of 53.3 percent. Broadly, the president’s approval rating has been fairly stable. About a year ago (on April 20, 2017), Trump’s approval rating was 42.0 percent, and his disapproval rating was 52.0 percent.
The generic ballot

The Democrats hold a 46.4 percent to 39.8 percent advantage on the generic congressional ballot this week. Last week, Democrats were up 46.2 percent to 39.6 percent.

Trumpism Without Trump

Goodbye Paul Ryan, hello to a new Republican Party that embraces the president’s politics but not his person.

A little more than six months from now, on November 7, the sun will rise on a political landscape wrecked by President Donald Trump’s first midterm election. Thanks to a map that puts more Democratic than Republican seats at risk, our party will still cling to control of the Senate, but GOP House members lack insulation: They will crawl out from the smoking rubble of a 40- to 50-seat pounding to find they have lost their majority.

Paul Ryan will be gone. The former Great White Hope of the Republican Party sneaked out of town before reveille, leaving his troops facing extinction. Our remaining soldiers, stunned or wounded, will also have blown the bugle of retreat, fleeing to the shelter of the party's shrunken conservative base. Our eyes will turn to those survivors, the leaders of a broken party, one only they can restore. They will determine where the Republican Party goes next. How do we renew our party in the Age of Trump?

We don’t have to wait for November’s cataclysm. We can begin now with a strategy to harness Trump’s base and add swing voters, even as we remain faithful to our principles.

To begin, we need to recognize that, although Donald Trump often appeals to the worst in us, the fears that fueled his election are legitimate. They need to be respected. We need a Republican Party as big as those fears and as great as America’s challenges. We need a Republican Party to address the twin concerns that rocketed an inexperienced businessman past both irrelevant political parties and made him president of the United States.

Fear No. 1: Our country fears it is losing the future. A broad slice of working-class voters fear the American dream has become the American game. They believe it has been fixed by the big guys, for the big guys, against the man who drives an F-150 and built their mansions. It was rigged by the very political leaders Americans sent to Washington to guard the future’s gates.

Donald Trump not only harnessed the resentments of Roosevelt’s “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” but he also offered them a solution, resurrecting the old Reagan slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Like Trump, our most successful political leaders have always offered blue-collar America a transformative vision of their future—FDR and his “New Deal,” JFK and the “New Frontier,” Reagan and his “Rendezvous with Destiny,” Bill Clinton and his “Bridge to the 21st Century,” and Barack Obama with “Hope,” “Change” and “Yes, We Can!” Yet no leader in either political party today offers America’s working class a compelling vision to compete with that of our president. We’ve left Trump a monopoly selling sunrises. There are no rivals on the shelf.

Fear No. 2: Our country fears it is losing its identity. We’ve always shared common beliefs, tenets that unite us as Americans. Our flag and anthem bind us into a nation because of the principles they represent: freedom, individual responsibility, the rule of law and equality of opportunity for every American. We have been united by one inspired national culture, open to and supported by all Americans.

Uniting America is not about “going back” or preserving these values only for male or white Americans. Diversity, equality and an open society are all pretty darn “American” these days. However, our openness no longer seems to have a uniting purpose. There is no better example than Hillary Clinton’s procession for president. Instead of running one campaign, she ran a confederacy of them, micro-targeting groups because of their differences. She found no larger slogan to unite voters beyond the vacuous “I’m With Her.”

As Columbia humanities professor Mark Lilla notes, “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”
Whether in politics, the media and entertainment businesses, or college campuses, our nation is sick with division because diversity no longer serves a larger purpose. There is no unifying national identity to bring us together or give our unique, individual contributions a common objective. Instead, the welcome ideas of “openness” and “diversity” have displaced what unites us. And when there is nothing to which we all belong, diversity becomes division. Openness, without a common, uniting culture, becomes chaos and America becomes a tribal combat zone, a scary, divided, self-segregated field of battle. Without the North Star of a unifying national identity, our country cracks into angry, razor-edged shards until its blood is drained.

When Americans fear they are losing both their future and their identity, what do they have left? Amid this great unraveling, a good but unnerved people become a mob and march on the walled fortresses of the establishment. They turn to the leadership of the autocrat. In 2016, a crowd-pleaser filled this vacuum with his strength.


It is unremarkable, at this point, to note that good Americans turned to Donald Trump, not because of his many flaws, but despite them. Trump’s threat and his appeal are identical: He is the undistilled reptilian brain.

Trump is all id, the oldest and most primitive part of our brain, concerned only with the evolutionary basics: sex, sustenance and survival. His brain is not filtered by our social and emotional brain, much less by the rational, pre-frontal cortex. He has no Jeb Bush brain to digest facts and figures, issues and policy. Instead, Trump is a predator. When something enters his world, he either eats it, kills it or mates with it. That is all his predatory instincts can do.

The president’s primitive nature is the root of his narcissism. Trump’s immediate and voracious appetites allow no concern for others or understanding of tomorrow. He reacts instinctively, not emotionally, morally or intellectually. He is insensitive to truth and incapable of discipline or strategy.

Yet Americans elected this predator, this T. rex president, as their last resort, in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from the horde of smaller, slimier predators in Washington who were on the verge of devouring them.

We can all see that Trump is, at times, a disreputable human specimen. His supporters see it as clearly as his adversaries. In fact, Trump makes sure we see it. Our T. rex president is proud of his predatory triumphs. Yet this electorate thought that even Donald Trump was a better bet than the status quo both Republicans and Democrats were offering them. Trump’s victory measured our national frustration, our hunger for an alternative to the impoverished offerings of both parties.

Like the Bourbons after Napoleon, however, Republicans and Democrats “have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Since the surprising day Trump was elected, neither party has learned or evolved, despite their humbling defeats at his hands.

The Republicans who make Donald Trump necessary are not the bootlickers like Corey Lewandowski who blindly follow his parade past Trump Tower, from Fifth Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. His enablers are Bill Kristol, Steve Schmidt and Karl Rove. They are Jeff Flake and John Kasich. They count Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan. They include all of us in the Republican Party who left the vacuum Trump has occupied. Yet today, we still offer more of the same but expect different results. If we do not renew this visionless party, it will never lead again.

Issues and policy alone are not our answer. They may be the essential currency of governing, but they are not the foundation of leadership. Our country is looking for something larger. If issues and policy could solve our problems, Ryan would be a hero instead of roadkill, and Trump would not be president of the United States.

Somewhere over the horizon, there is a renewed Republican Party that has learned from Trump but is not limited by his person. If we can grant that “Trump has assembled the most conservative administration and agenda of any modern president,” it should not be difficult for the GOP to embrace Trumpism without its namesake. I’d chisel in stone five commandments for “Trumpism Beyond Trump” that every Republican campaign should observe.

1. A renewed GOP must be the party of change.

A new and better GOP must be a populist party of outsiders who will bring change to Washington and challenge our antiquated political establishment. The GOP must be the party of bottom-up solutions, not top-down government. We must be the party, not of the big guy or the little guy, but of everyone. To renew ourselves, Republicans must always be agents of change, outsiders on the side of the people and not the establishment that requires transformation.

What this means for GOP campaigns: The Republican Party needs to burn down the top-down, industrial-age structures that empower the political elite of Washington, even if they are controlled by Republicans. We must lead with an agenda to remove money and power from our archaic and imperial establishment. If GOP policy is more aggressive and disruptive than Mitch McConnell finds tasteful, put it in a campaign ad: Your campaign will be moving ahead.

2. A renewed GOP must admit it needs to change.

The American people can see what Republicans often ignore: The GOP was bankrupt long before Trump came along. The Reagan Revolution that still defines the GOP crested decades ago. That great cause became a movement, then a business, then a self-preserving racket. In 2016, the American people judged that Washington Republicans had been poisoned by their success and become the very thing they were sent to the Capitol to change.

Yet, too many Republicans today would rather wail about Trump on “Morning Joe” than admit their party is a shell full of hollow hopes and excuses. They are running out the clock, waiting for Trump to pass from the scene, so they can return to their old habits.

Voters won’t believe Republicans can fix the problem until we admit we are the problem. Your choice in 2018: Be change or get changed. Don’t campaign as yesterday’s Republican. Run against yesterday’s Democrats, instead.

3. A renewed GOP must be the party of the economic future, not the past.

Without an inspiring vision of the future, voters reach for the security of the nanny state and surrender to the strength of the autocrat. A renewed Republican Party needs a New Economy vision of economic growth and prosperity.

Today’s Republicans can express their economic policy only in an industrial age frame. Trump, for example, vows to bring back manufacturing. In Congress, yesterday’s GOP is still stuck advocating tax cuts as patent medicine, with the ability to grow hair, cure ED and heal every ill in society. And tax cuts are necessary—but they are insufficient. GOP tax policy is already built into our brand’s stock price. Tell people what they already know, and they stay where they already are. More of the same will not expand the GOP.

What can Republicans do to renew their brand? Our party’s future is not difficult to see: It lives in Silicon Valley. A new generation of Palo Alto entrepreneurs lives what Republicans believe. They, not Washington, are creating an open and innovative economy far beyond anything yesterday’s government could imagine. These visionaries vote against Republicans, however, because we have offered our principles, not as the key to the prosperity of the future, but as the source of the achievements of the past.

Republicans do have a message for millennials. In the communications age, freedom—the ability to connect, adapt and evolve—is indispensable. Republican principles that respect freedom do not need alteration. Our language expressing how these principles work in a connected world, however, does need to be updated. Millennials, women and minorities may call freedom “diversity” or “openness,” but in their new, hyper-related world, they need the liberty conservatives cherish.

At the super PAC NewRepublican.org a few years ago, we had the opportunity to test words that work to express GOP principles in the communications age. We learned that Republicans can employ their core beliefs to force a choice between the old system Democrats defend and the new world Silicon Valley is creating: a new, “open” economy versus an old, “closed" one. “Authentic, natural, organic economic growth” versus “outdated, artificial, political stimulus and programs.” “Bottom-up” versus “top-down” economic initiatives. A more open economy is the foundational principle of an Uber-generation Republican Party that can expand its appeal beyond Trump’s base of supporters to the voters of the future: the millennials, suburban women and minorities in the emerging Democratic majority.

Does an “open” economy require Republicans to accept unfair trade, illegal immigration or insecure borders? No, it doesn’t. We don’t have to become anarchists, throw out all the rules, and divorce ourselves from Trump on these issues. An open economy is not a borderless one, whether on immigration or trade.

The strategy for 2018 Republicans: Campaign like Elon Musk and govern like Ronald Reagan. Musk has JFK’s gift for finding symbols of the future and elevating them. A renewed GOP must do the same. After all, voters won’t follow us to The Promised Land if we can’t point them there. If November is a choice between the Democratic Party of the past and tomorrow’s reborn Republicans, we have a modest chance to survive 2018. With good campaigns, we might lose only 25 seats in the House and rebuild our party from there.

4. A renewed GOP must stand up for a uniting American identity.

Trump champions a strong national identity by inciting conflict and segregation. His divisive view of America is rooted in resentment and anger. A renewed Republican Party and its leaders must recognize people’s fear that America is losing its unifying identity—then argue that our shared belief in one nation is the only thing that can bring all Americans together.

The Republican Party is the party of American exceptionalism. There is a reason we all need to stand up for the national anthem: A renewed GOP should oppose the Democratic Party’s divisive identity politics and the cultural segregation it manufactures. We should support a larger, uniting American identity, open to and shared by every race, color, creed and gender.

Republicans need to learn from Trump and embrace his unapologetic nationalism, but campaign with a patriotism that unites, rather than divides, the nation. Much of what Trump is doing can expand the Republican Party if expressed with a loving heart instead of a reproving hand. Salute the flag. Stand up for the anthem. Say the pledge of allegiance. Make the case that requiring immigrants to learn English in schools is not punishment or an attack on their cultures. On the contrary, it is the greatest gift our country can give anyone, access to the American dream that brought them here. Teach the Constitution in our schools. Require that all federal employees take a course and pass a test demonstrating they understand the Constitution they have sworn to protect and defend before they can cash a paycheck. A uniting patriotism extends a common-sense proposal: America must be a nation before it can be great.

5. A renewed GOP must be the party of strength.

Many Republicans suffer terrible debilities in this primitive moment: They are creatures of reason. They respect procedure and tradition. But these civilized qualities can mislead a nation battling for its existence.

This year, Republican candidates are being tested in the Coliseum. The crowd believes strong leadership is indispensable. Learn from the apex predator who is president: Stand up for what you believe—and shoot your pollsters. Envision a great country’s future and lift our eyes there.


Donald Trump’s presidency is hidden behind the clouds, a storm of controversy of his own making. This president, more than anyone else, has made it impossible to credit him for his accomplishments. By any fair measure, there are many: He has crushed ISIS and increased our paychecks with a tax cut. He has erased regulations that were growing Washington’s economy at the expense of our economy. He has appointed a respected Supreme Court justice and transformed the judiciary to call balls and strikes. American manufacturing is growing. He brought China to confront North Korea. He is pressing for free trade that works fairly in all directions. He throws missiles at Putin once a year and he is making our military strong again. His ferociously incorrect talk has ripped away the pretension cloaking Washington’s decline and irrelevance.

When the long arc of history judges Trump, it will likely report he left behind a vicious inflationary spiral. That, alongside devouring the country’s expectations for a president’s personal conduct, may be the greatest cost of his T. rex presidency. He will be assessed as the bipolar leader he has become, both one of the worst and best presidents Americans have ever elected, perhaps the greatest president to be removed from the Oval Office in chains.

I doubt any other 2016 GOP candidate could have equaled this president’s accomplishments. He has stopped America’s decline and, in many areas, reversed it. Americans should be grateful he was elected president. If he is not disqualified from the ballot, I plan to vote for him again.

But what Trump has done can be undone. He is a man, not a movement. He is an instinct, not an idea. He crushed a hollow Republican Party, but he has not rebuilt it. The Republicans who come after Donald Trump must do what they have not yet done: Decide how to lead after this exasperating and heroic president leaves office. And that is our problem: We don’t have a Republican Party. We ought to. Not long from now, our country is going to need one.

How Pew Research Center identified bots on Twitter

By John Gramlich

Bots are a part of life on Twitter, but determining just how widespread they are can be tricky.

A recent Pew Research Center study explored the role bots play in sharing links on Twitter. The study examined 1.2 million tweeted links – collected over the summer of 2017 – to measure how many came from suspected bot accounts. The result: Around two-thirds (66%) of the tweeted links the Center examined were shared by suspected bots, or automated accounts that can generate or distribute content without direct human oversight.

Like any study of bots on Twitter, the analysis first needed to answer a fundamental question: Which accounts are bots and which accounts aren’t? In this Q&A, Stefan Wojcik, a computational social scientist at the Center and one of the report’s authors, explains how he and his colleagues navigated this question. You can also watch this video explainer with Wojcik to hear more about the methodology of the study.

How can you determine if a Twitter account is a person or a bot?
Stefan Wojcik, Pew Research Center computational social scientist

It’s a challenge. It’s a burgeoning field and there is always a degree of uncertainty. But the best way is to look at what a particular account is doing. What kind of content is it sharing? Do the tweets convey human-sounding messages? What other accounts does it follow? Has the account tweeted every five minutes for its whole lifespan?

You can come up with a list of characteristics like these to try to determine whether an account is a bot or not. Of course, it would be far too time-consuming to try to observe those characteristics for 140,000 different Twitter accounts (roughly the number of accounts included in the study). A more practical approach is to come up with a reasonably large dataset of accounts that are bots and not bots, and then use a machine learning system to “learn” the patterns that characterize bot and human accounts. With those patterns in hand, you can then use them to classify a much larger number of accounts.

We investigated different machine learning systems that have been tested publicly. Based on its successful application in past research and our own testing, we selected a system called Botometer.

What is Botometer, and how does it work?

Bots in the Twittersphere

Read Pew Research Center’s report on automated accounts and Twitter.

Botometer is a machine learning system developed by researchers at the University of Southern California and Indiana University. The system was trained to recognize bot behavior based on patterns in a dataset of over 30,000 accounts that were first verified by human researchers as either bots or non-bots. Botometer “reads” over a thousand different characteristics, or “features,” for each account and then assigns the account a score between 0 and 1. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood the account is automated. The tool has been used in a number of academic studies and other independent research.

In your study, you set a Botometer score of 0.43 as the threshold between a non-automated account and an automated one. How did you arrive at that threshold?

As others have done in the past, we needed to say whether an account could reasonably be suspected of employing automation – being a “bot.” So we set a threshold, which we selected in a way that would minimize two different kinds of error. Using a Botometer score that was too high would have meant incorrectly classifying many bots as human accounts – otherwise known as a false negative. On the other hand, if we had set a threshold that was too low, we would have incorrectly labeled lots of human accounts as bots – a false positive.

Which type of error is “worse?” It’s a complicated question, and the answer depends on what you want to accomplish. We wanted the most accurate, 10,000-foot view of the prevalence of bots sharing links on Twitter, so we set the threshold in a way that maximized accuracy.

Using a Botometer score that was too high would have meant incorrectly classifying many bots as human accounts – otherwise known as a false negative. On the other hand, if we had set a threshold that was too low, we would have incorrectly labeled lots of human accounts as bots – a false positive.
Stefan Wojcik

We did that by conducting a human analysis of a subset of the Twitter accounts in our study and then using the results to determine which Botometer threshold would minimize the share of false positives and false negatives in the larger sample.

This analysis, which is informed by human judgments, is an alternative to choosing an arbitrary threshold, which the developers of Botometer explicitly discourage. Our tests eventually led us to settle on a threshold score of 0.43, which is similar to what the Botometer team itself has found to maximize accuracy for a large sample.

We also went back and looked at accounts that Twitter had suspended as part of its efforts to improve the platform since we collected our data. We found that accounts we suspected of being bots were suspended at higher rates than accounts we identified as human.

Aren’t there some Twitter accounts that are above your threshold but are not bots? And aren’t there some accounts that are below your threshold but are bots?

Yes, there are some. Several people who read our study pointed this out after they tested their own Twitter accounts against our threshold. But it’s important to remember that we calibrated this threshold in order to get to get an average estimate of the big-picture role bots are playing in producing tweeted links, not to determine whether particular individual accounts were bots. If that were our goal, we might have used a different method, one that focused more on minimizing false positives.

Measurement error is a natural part of machine learning, and scientific measurement more broadly. Surveys, for example, also have measurement error that can result from poorly worded questions or inattentive respondents, in addition to the more familiar sampling error. So it’s not surprising to see false positives or false negatives when using this system.

Many institutional Twitter accounts – like those of news organizations that tweet multiple links to the same article each day – may demonstrate bot-like behavior even though they are not bots. How did your study account for these kinds of accounts?

We recognized that as a potential issue. If institutional accounts were responsible for a substantial amount of tweeted links, then our understanding of bot behavior might be very different. So we performed a test to see what impact – if any – these “verified” accounts might have had. We removed verified accounts that were classified as bot accounts and reran our analysis. We found that the percentages of tweeted links posted by bots were virtually the same, with or without verified accounts. This gave us confidence that our results were not primarily driven by these verified institutional accounts.

What takeaways about machine learning in general emerged from this project?

Machine learning can be a valuable tool for research. It can be especially helpful when examining large amounts of social media data or other digital trace data on the web. In fact, in recent years, Pew Research Center has expanded its research using machine learning.

We also know that machine learning is a growing field and that there is always a degree of uncertainty in how well particular approaches work. We feel that the best way to use this tool is to be transparent in the decisions we make, be open about the possibility for error and be careful when interpreting our findings. We’re eager to contribute to the advances being made in natural language processing, applied statistics and machine learning, and we look forward to exploring their advantages and limitations.

יום שלישי, 17 באפריל 2018

Fewer People in Latin America See the U.S. Favorably Under Trump

The eighth Summit of the Americas begins this Friday in Lima, Peru. President Donald Trump was originally scheduled to attend the summit, but he has now decided to stay in Washington to address the ongoing crisis in Syria. Vice President Mike Pence will represent the United States in Trump’s place. Pence’s visit comes amid a drop in U.S. favorability across much of Latin America.

In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey of seven Latin American countries, a median of 47% said they have a favorable view of the U.S. Approval was highest in the summit’s host country, Peru (51%), as well as in Colombia (51%) and Brazil (50%). The U.S. received the least positive ratings in Mexico, where just 30% said they have a favorable view.

These numbers mark a considerable decline since the last Summit of the Americas in 2015. At that time, public opinion of the U.S. in the region was largely favorable: Across the same seven countries, a median of 66% had a favorable view of the U.S., 19 percentage points higher than in last year’s survey.

The decline in favorable opinions of the U.S. across the region was most pronounced in Mexico: About two-thirds of Mexicans (66%) approved of the U.S. in 2015, but that share had fallen 36 points by 2017.

As is the case in much of the world, relatively few people in Latin America express confidence in Trump’s leadership on the global stage. A median of 77% in Latin America said in the 2017 survey that they have no confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs. In 2014, just 42% of people in the same seven countries said they had no confidence in then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

Among 37 countries surveyed globally in 2017, Trump received his lowest ratings on this question in Mexico, where 93% said they have no confidence in the U.S. leader. His proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border was also particularly unpopular in the United States’ southern neighbor, where 94% said they disapproved of the project. The border wall was similarly unpopular across the other six Latin American countries surveyed, with a regional median of 83% saying they opposed it.

Majorities in Latin America also opposed other possible Trump administration policies, including restrictions on people traveling from majority-Muslim countries to the U.S., and U.S. withdrawal from major international trade and climate change agreements.

Large majorities of people in Latin America also had negative views of Trump’s personal characteristics, describing him as arrogant (a median of 82%), intolerant (77%) and dangerous (66%). However, about three-quarters (77%) also described the president as a strong leader.

The theme for this year’s Summit of the Americas is “Democratic Governance Against Corruption,” with additional focus on corruption’s impact on development and social inequality in the participating countries. The theme is particularly timely for the host country, which saw its president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, abruptly resign in March after being accused of accepting illegal payments from a Brazilian construction conglomerate. Kuczynski’s vice president, Martin Vizcarra, was subsequently sworn in as president, and he will represent Peru at the summit.

In 2017, a majority of Peruvians (73%) reported being dissatisfied with the way democracy was going in their country, and just 12% said they trusted their national government to do what is right for their country. Discontent with democracy is rife throughout Latin America, where a regional median of 73% said they were dissatisfied with how democracy is working in their countries.

A majority of Peruvians (60%) also do not feel close to any of their country’s political parties. The share of people who are not affiliated with any political party is high across Latin America: Half or more in Chile (78%), Brazil (60%), Argentina (51%) and Colombia (50%) say they do not feel close to any political party in their country.

יום שני, 16 באפריל 2018

Near-record number of House members not seeking re-election in 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan waves to colleagues at the Capitol shortly after his election to the leadership position in October 2015.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement Wednesday that he would not seek re-election adds a big name to what was already shaping up to be a near-record year of seat turnovers in the U.S. House of Representatives. More House members are choosing not to run for re-election to that body than at any time in the past quarter-century – including a record number of Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

As of April 11, 55 representatives (38 Republicans and 17 Democrats) have announced they’re not running for new terms, according to our count. In addition, one Republican (Blake Farenthold of Texas) and one Democrat (John Conyers of Michigan) have resigned. That makes a total of 57 voluntary departures, or 13% of the House’s full voting membership.

Those counts could rise further, since the filing deadlines in several states haven’t yet passed. Still, the number of retirements so far this year is the most since 1992, when 65 representatives (41 Democrats and 24 Republicans) chose not to pursue re-election; 51 retired outright, while 14 decided to run for some other office. Based on our analysis and a tally going back to 1930 compiled by Vital Statistics on Congress, 1992 is the record year for voluntary House departures.

The 38 Republicans who are leaving the House by choice after this year – including Wisconsin’s Ryan, the speaker since October 2015 – are the most for the GOP since 1930. (This year’s tally doesn’t include two currently vacant seats that had been held by Republicans who have resigned, since those seats will be filled by special elections before November and the winners presumably will seek full terms as incumbents. Conyers’ seat, however, won’t be filled until Election Day in November, and it’s unclear whether there will be a special election for Farenthold’s seat before then.)

Of the 55 representatives who’ve chosen not to seek re-election to the House this November, 20 are running for other offices instead – 11 for U.S. Senate and nine for governor of their state. (One representative, Maryland Democrat John Delaney, says he’ll run for president in 2020, but that’s a long way off so for now we’re counting him as a straight retirement.) The 35 retirements so far this year are the most since 1996, when the same number of House members left without seeking another office.

For this analysis, we combined several lists of departing House members (such as those from The Atlantic and the House Press Gallery) and verified the names through media reports; we also drew on data for past years that we gathered in 2014. Not included in the count were what might be called “involuntary departures” – where members died or (in one case) were expelled too soon to fill their seats via special election before the November general. (Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York died in March; it’s not clear whether there will be an early special election for her seat.)

At the time of his resignation in December 2017, Conyers was the “dean of the House” – the member with the longest continuous service in that chamber. Conyers served 52.9 years in the House, making him the third-longest-serving representative in U.S. history. Other long-serving members hanging up their spurs this year include Sander Levin, D-Mich. (36 years in the House), Joe Barton and Lamar Smith, both R-Texas (34 and 32 years, respectively), and Jimmy Duncan, R-Tenn. (30.2 years). All told, the 35 retiring members represent 588.6 years of House experience walking out the door (assuming they all complete their current terms).

On average, the retiring members have 16.8 years of House experience (again, assuming they all complete their terms), compared with 7.6 years for the members leaving to seek another office, and an average of 10.7 years for the members seeking re-election. Among all current members, the average tenure among Democrats is 12.7 years, versus 9.7 for Republicans; among the retiring members, tenure averages 15.4 years for Democrats, 17.4 years for Republicans.

The spate of House members opting not to run for re-election this year has prompted much commentary speculating on what it might or might not mean for Democrats’ hopes of regaining control of the chamber. But large numbers of retirements don’t necessarily portend big changes in the House’s partisan makeup, based on a review of election results since 1992.

Over that timespan, there have been three elections that saw enough seats switch parties to shift control of the House. In 1994, a net 52 House seats swung from Democratic to Republican as the GOP took control for the first time in more than four decades. Democrats regained control in 2006, when they picked up 30 Republican seats, only to lose it again in 2010 when a net 63 seats turned from blue to red.

None of those elections were marked by particularly large numbers of voluntary departures. In 1994, 48 representatives chose to leave the House by retiring, resigning (without replacement) or running for some other office – not many more than the 1992-2018 average of 41. Only 30 representatives passed on re-election bids in 2006 (less than 7% of the House), and 38 did so in 2010. On the other hand, while 1992 remains the record year for voluntary departures, the GOP gained just a net 10 seats from Democrats in that year’s elections.

And picking off seats opened up by retirements, resignations or seeking other offices has not been a major factor behind the most recent shifts in House control. In 2010, only 13 of the 66 Democratic seats that flipped to the GOP were open; just seven of the 30 Republican seats that Democrats captured in 2006 to retake the House were open. In 1994, Republicans won 21 open Democratic seats, but it was the 35 Democratic incumbents they beat that gave them the majority.

יום שישי, 13 באפריל 2018

Bots in the Twittersphere

Rubén Weinsteiner

An estimated two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts – not human beings

The role of so-called social media “bots” – automated accounts capable of posting content or interacting with other users with no direct human involvement – has been the subject of much scrutiny and attention in recent years. These accounts can play a valuable part in the social media ecosystem by answering questions about a variety of topics in real time or providing automated updates about news stories or events. At the same time, they can also be used to attempt to alter perceptions of political discourse on social media, spread misinformation, or manipulate online rating and review systems. As social media has attained an increasingly prominent position in the overall news and information environment, bots have been swept up in the broader debate over Americans’ changing news habits, the tenor of online discourse and the prevalence of “fake news” online.

In the context of these ongoing arguments over the role and nature of bots, Pew Research Center set out to better understand how many of the links being shared on Twitter – most of which refer to a site outside the platform itself – are being promoted by bots rather than humans. To do this, the Center used a list of 2,315 of the most popular websites1 and examined the roughly 1.2 million tweets (sent by English language users) that included links to those sites during a roughly six-week period in summer 2017. The results illustrate the pervasive role that automated accounts play in disseminating links to a wide range of prominent websites on Twitter.

How does this study define a Twitter bot?

Broadly speaking, Twitter bots are accounts that can post content or interact with other users in an automated way and without direct human input.

Bots are used for many purposes. This study focuses on a particular kind of bot behavior: bots that tweet or retweet links to content around the web. In other words, these are bots that post or promote specific websites or other online content.

Many bots do not identify themselves as bots, so this study uses a tool called Botometer to estimate the proportion of Twitter links to popular sites around the web that are posted by automated or partially automated accounts. One study suggests Botometer is about 86% accurate, and Pew Resesarch Center conducted its own independent validation tests of the Botometer system. To acknowledge the possibility of misclassification, we use the term “suspected bots” throughout this report. For details on how Botometer functions, see the methodology.

Among the key findings of this research:
Of all tweeted links2 3 to popular websites, 66% are shared by accounts with characteristics common among automated “bots,” rather than human users.
Among popular news and current event websites, 66% of tweeted links are made by suspected bots – identical to the overall average. The share of bot-created tweeted links is even higher among certain kinds of news sites. For example, an estimated 89% of tweeted links to popular aggregation sites that compile stories from around the web are posted by bots.
A relatively small number of highly active bots are responsible for a significant share of links to prominent news and media sites. This analysis finds that the 500 most-active suspected bot accounts are responsible for 22% of the tweeted links to popular news and current events sites over the period in which this study was conducted. By comparison, the 500 most-active human users are responsible for a much smaller share (an estimated 6%) of tweeted links to these outlets.
The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a liberal or conservative “political bias” in their overall link-sharing behavior. This emerges from an analysis of the subset of news sites that contain politically oriented material. Suspected bots share roughly 41% of links to political sites shared primarily by conservatives and 44% of links to political sites shared primarily by liberals – a difference that is not statistically significant. By contrast, suspected bots share 57% to 66% of links from news and current events sites shared primarily by an ideologically mixed or centrist human audience.

Examples of Twitter bots in action

Bots can be used for a wide range of purposes. Here are some examples of bots that perform various tasks on Twitter:
Netflix Bot (@netflix_bot) automatically tweets when new content has been added to the online streaming service.
Grammar Police (@_grammar_) is a bot that identifies grammatically incorrect tweets and offers suggestions for correct usage
Museum Bot (@museumbot) posts random images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The CNN Breaking News Bot (@attention_cnn) is an unofficial account that sends an alert whenever CNN claims to have breaking news
The New York Times 4th Down Bot (@NYT4thDownBot) is a bot that provides live NFL analysis.
PowerPost by the Washington Post (@PowerPost) is a bot that provides news about decision-makers in Washington.

These findings are based on an analysis of a random sample of about 1.2 million tweets from English language users containing links to popular websites over the time period of July 27 to Sept. 11, 2017.4 To construct the list of popular sites used in this analysis, the Center identified nearly 3,000 of the most-shared websites during the first 18 days of the study period and coded them based on a variety of characteristics.5 After removing links that were dead, duplicated or directed to sites without sufficient information to classify their content, researchers arrived at a list of 2,315 websites.

First, these sites were categorized into six different topical groups based on their primary area of focus. The topical groupings included: adult content, sports, celebrity, commercial products or services, organizations or groups, and news and current events. For comparison with these primary categories, researchers put links that redirected to content within Twitter itself into a separate category.

Second, sites categorized as having a broad focus on news and current events (in total, 925 sites met this criteria) were subsequently coded based on three additional criteria:
Whether a majority of the site’s content consisted of aggregated or republished material produced by other sites or publications;
Whether the site included a politics section, and/or prominently featured political stories in its top headlines; and
Whether the site had a contact page (a trait that can serve as a proxy for whether a site offers readers the ability to submit comments and feedback).

Third, the Center identified an additional subset of news and current events sites that featured political stories or a politics section and that primarily serve a U.S. audience. Each of these politically oriented news and current events sites was then categorized as having primarily a liberal audience, a conservative audience or a mixed readership.6

The next step was to examine each tweeted link to those sites and attempt to determine if the link was posted from an automated account. To identify bots, the Center used a tool known as “Botometer,” developed by researchers at the University of Southern California and Indiana University. Now in its second incarnation, Botometer estimates the likelihood that any given account is automated or not based on a number of criteria, including the age of the account, how frequently it posts, and the characteristics of its follower network, among other factors. Accounts estimated as having a relatively high likelihood of being automated based on Pew Research Center’s tests of the Botometer system were classified as bots for the purposes of this analysis.7

Collectively, the data gathering, site coding and bot detection analysis described above provide an answer to the following key research question: What proportion of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts, rather than by human users?

This research is part of a series of Pew Research Center reports examining the information environment on social media and the ways that users engage in these digital spaces. Previous studies have documented the nature and sources of tweets regarding immigration news, the ways in which news is shared via social media in a polarized Congress, the degree to which science information on social media is shared and trusted, the role of social media in the broader context of online harassment, how key social issues like race relations play out on these platforms, and the patterns of how different groups arrange themselves on Twitter.

It is important to note that bot accounts do not always clearly identify themselves as such in their profiles, and any bot classification system inevitably carries some risk of error. The Botometer system has been documented and validated in an array of academic publications, and researchers from the Center conducted a number of independent validation measures of its results.8 However, some human accounts may be misclassified as automated, while some automated accounts may be misclassified as genuine. There is therefore a degree of uncertainty in these estimates of the share of traffic by suspected bot accounts.

In addition, the analysis described in this report is based on a subset of tweets collected over a specific period of time. It is not an analysis of all websites or of all media properties, but rather an analysis of popular websites and media outlets as measured by the number of links posted on Twitter to their content. This analysis does not seek to evaluate whether these links were being shared by “good” or “bad” bots, or whether those bots are controlled from inside or outside the U.S. It also did not seek to assess the reach of the tweets in question or to determine how many human users saw, clicked through or otherwise engaged with bot-generated content.

Further details on our bot-classification effort can be found in the methodology of this report.
Automated account activity is prominent across the Twitter ecosystem

Automated accounts play a prominent role in tweeting out links to content across the Twitter ecosystem. The Center’s analysis finds that an estimated 66% of all tweeted links to the most popular websites are likely posted by automated accounts, rather than human users.

Certain types of sites – most notably those focused on adult content and sports – receive an especially large share of their Twitter links from automated accounts. Automated accounts were responsible for an estimated 90% of all tweeted links to popular websites focused on adult content during the study period. For popular websites focused on sports content, that share was estimated to be 76%.

Automated accounts make up a slightly smaller proportion – although in each case still a majority – of link shares for other types of popular sites. Most notably, the Center’s analysis finds that 66% of tweeted links to the most popular news and current events sites on Twitter are likely to have been shared by bot accounts. That figure is identical to the average for the most popular sites as a whole. Suspected automated accounts make up a larger share of links posted to popular sites focused on commercial products or services (73%) and a lesser share of sites focused on celebrity news and culture (62%). The proportion of link shares by automated accounts is the lowest for links associated with Twitter.com – that is, links that stop at Twitter and do not redirect to any external site – compared with the six topical categories in this study. Links associated with Twitter itself are shared by suspected bot accounts about 50% of the time – a substantially smaller share than the other primary categories of content analyzed.
In focus: Popular news and current events websites are linked to in tweets by bots

Automated accounts post a substantial share of links to a wide range of online media outlets on Twitter. As noted above, the Center’s analysis estimates that 66% of tweeted links to popular news and current events websites are posted by bots. The analysis also finds that a relatively small number of automated accounts are responsible for a substantial share of the links to popular media outlets on Twitter. The 500 most-active suspected bot accounts alone were responsible for 22% of all the links to these news and current events sites over the period in which this study was conducted. By contrast, the 500 most-active human accounts were responsible for just 6% of all links to such sites.

The Center’s analysis also indicates that certain types of news and current events sites appear especially likely to be tweeted by automated accounts. Among the most prominent of these are aggregation sites, or sites that primarily compile content from other places around the web. An estimated 89% of links to these aggregation sites over the study period were posted by bot accounts.

Automated accounts also provide a somewhat higher-than-average proportion of links to sites lacking a public contact page or email address for contacting the editor or other staff. This type of contact information can be used to submit reader feedback that may serve as the basis of corrections or additional reporting. The vast majority (90%) of the popular news and current events sites examined in this study had a public-facing, non-Twitter contact page. The small minority of sites lacking this type of contact page were shared by suspected bots at greater rates than those with contact pages. Some 75% of links to such sites were shared by suspected bot accounts during the period under study, compared with 60% for sites with a contact page.

On the other hand, certain types of news and current events sites receive a lower-than-average share of their Twitter links from automated accounts. Most notably, this analysis indicates that popular news and current events sites featuring political content have the lowest level of link traffic from bot accounts among the types of news and current events content the Center analyzed, holding other factors constant. Of all links to popular media sources prominently featuring politics or political content over the time period of the study, 57% are estimated to have originated from bot accounts.
Twitter bots post a greater share of content from centrist Twitter audiences

The question of whether the media sources shared by liberals or conservatives see more automated account traffic has been a topic of debate over the last year. Some have voiced worry that suspected bot accounts are prolific in sharing hyper-partisan political news, either on the left or right of the ideological spectrum.

However, the Center’s analysis finds that automated Twitter accounts actually share a higher proportion of links from sites that have ideologically mixed or centrist human audiences – at least within the realm of popular news and current events sites with an orientation toward political news and issues. By extension, these automated accounts are less likely to share links from sites with ideologically conservative or liberal human audiences. In addition, right-left differences in the proportion of bot traffic are not substantial.

This analysis is based on a subgroup of popular news and current events outlets that feature political stories in their headlines or have a politics section, and that serve a primarily U.S. audience. A total of 358 websites out of our full sample of 2,315 popular sites met these criteria. Researchers isolated the suspected non-automated accounts that shared links to those sites on Twitter over the time period of the study and used a statistical technique known as correspondence analysis to estimate the ideology of each site’s Twitter audience.

Correspondence analysis first measures how consistently individual sites are shared by some users and not others. It then groups them together and quantifies the degree of difference. Based on this analysis, a score of greater than zero suggests that a site’s audience is more consistently conservative, while a score less than zero suggests that a site’s audience is more consistently liberal. This is a technique based on scholarly research that estimates ideological preferences as revealed by behavior. Researchers can use this method to see which sites are shared mostly by a liberal, conservative, or moderate audience, and how many times bots share each kind of site. It is important to note that correspondence analysis produces estimates of audience ideology without any analysis of the content of the website – only the sharing patterns of human users. For more details, see the methodology section.

The Center’s analysis finds that suspected autonomous accounts post a higher proportion of links to sites that are primarily shared by human users who score near the center of the ideological spectrum, rather than those shared more often by either a more liberal or a more conservative audience. Automated accounts share roughly 57% to 66% of the links to political sites that are shared by an ideologically mixed or centrist human audience, according to the analysis. By contrast, automated accounts are estimated to share roughly 41% of links to political sites with audiences comprised primarily of conservatives, and 44% of those comprised primarily of conservatives. Sharing rates among sites with liberal audiences are not significantly different from those with conservative audiences. However, differences in sharing rates for sites with centrist audiences compared with those at either end of the spectrum are substantially beyond the margins of error.

It is important to note certain caveats in interpreting the findings of this analysis. First, this study only examines major media outlets as measured by the number of shares they receive on Twitter. Second, it does not examine the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of the content shared by humans and the content shared by bots. Finally, it is focused on overall sharing rates and does not account for the subsequent shares or engagement of human users.

  1. Popular sites defined as those most frequently shared in a 1% sample of tweets posted on Twitter from the period July 27 to Aug. 14, 2017. The final list was based on a larger list of nearly 3,000 of the most-shared web sites linked to on Twitter during this initial 18-day period in the study. A total of 685 were excluded because they were deactivated, duplicated, or directed to sites without sufficient information to allow researchers to classify them. See methodology for further details.
  2. A tweeted link is a link to a twitter URL or an external URL contained in a single tweet. If two tweets contain the same link, they are counted separately. If a tweet contains two or more links, each is counted as a separate tweeted link. 5.2% of all tweets contained more than one link. Counting each tweet once results in an estimate of 65%, inclusive of links to the twitter.com domain.
  3. Removing links to the twitter.com domain results in an estimate of 70%. Counting each tweet only once does not change this estimate.
  4. Accounts may tweet in many different languages, but researchers only focused on those listing English as their profile language. Profile language or listed location is not necessarily a reliable measure of where the user or account is operated from.
  5. This list is based on a sample of tweets containing links collected between July 27 and Aug. 14, 2017