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How Starbucks Magnate Howard Schultz Might Impact 2020 U.S Presidential Election

Political scientists, by and large, believe Clinton would have won in a two-candidate contest. But there are members of the GOP who still blame Perot for making the elder Bush a single-term president.

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Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks at the time, speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, March 22, 2017. VOA

A billionaire, with the ability and apparent willingness to self-finance a national campaign, Schultz could have a profound impact on the presidential contest, even if his actual chances of victory would likely be slim.

Schultz’s tentative entry into the race sparked a variety of reactions across the country. His announcement piqued the interest of those who long for an alternative to the two-party system. It also earned the immediate derision of many political veterans, who see him as a wealthy dilettante. Most notably, it provoked outright fear among many Democrats, who worry that his bid could siphon votes away from their party’s eventual nominee, giving President Donald Trump a better shot at re-election, despite his sharp decline in the polls.

People protest outside before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.
People protest outside before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.( VOA)

Originally from Brooklyn, Schultz, 65, made his billions on the West Coast, turning a small Seattle coffee company into a ubiquitous chain with more than 28,000 outlets worldwide. Along the way, he became a reliable donor to the Democratic Party, calling himself a “lifelong Democrat.”

That, however, has changed.

In a flurry of TV appearances over the past week, Schultz has explicitly broken with both major political parties, insisting that the majority of Americans are not being well-served by “far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats.”

Staking out a middle ground

While Schultz has not yet laid out detailed policy proposals, he appears to be staking out a middle-ground position, agreeing with Republicans on some economic and fiscal issues, but with Democrats on many social issues.

He has angrily denounced proposals from high-profile Democrats to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, and to increase taxes on the wealthy by raising marginal rates on the highest earners, or taxing wealth in addition to income.

In an appearance on CNN, he dismissed the Medicare idea as “not American.” In an interview with National Public Radio, he called Democratic tax plans “ridiculous.”

On many of the issues that have fueled the country’s ongoing culture war, though, Schultz is firmly on the side of his former party. He remains in favor of abortion rights and gay marriage, and has spoken in support of tighter regulation of firearms. He also favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and aggressive action to counter climate change.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is interviewed by FOX News Anchor Dana Perino for her "The Daily Briefing" program, in New York, Jan. 30, 2019. Schultz said he's flirting with an independent presidential campaign that would motivate voters turned off by partisan politics.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is interviewed by FOX News Anchor Dana Perino for her “The Daily Briefing” program, in New York, Jan. 30, 2019. Schultz said he’s flirting with an independent presidential campaign that would motivate voters turned off by partisan politics.(VOA)

Schultz’s pitch is that his mix of policy positions will appeal to what he has repeatedly referred to as a “silent majority” of independent voters who are dissatisfied with both major parties and want an independent candidate to support.

But that assessment of the American electorate isn’t shared by political scientists. While some 40 percent of voters do self-identify as independents, study after study has shown that the overwhelming majority of them actually have a strong preference for one party or the other.

Schultz looms as a ‘spoiler’

To think otherwise is “just incredibly naive,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It shows a very unsophisticated understanding of the American electorate.” He added, “There is a spoiler potential with someone like Schultz. But a path to victory? It’s just difficult for me to imagine.”

Indeed, commentators and partisans on both sides have focused less on Schultz as a potential president and more as a disruptive force in what will almost certainly be a highly contentious election.

“His presence in the race adds a degree of uncertainty,” said Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

“He stands very little chance of winning the 2020 election, but he stands a decent chance of affecting the outcome,” Masket added. “If it’s going to be a close re-election race, and I assume it is, his votes could be the difference between a Trump re-election and a defeat.”

For his part, Schultz said he has no intention of aiding the incumbent president.

“I would never put myself in the position of being the person to re-elect Donald Trump,” Schultz told CNN Wednesday. Yet, he strongly signaled that if the Democrats turn toward a far-left candidate like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the temptation to launch an independent campaign would be irresistible.

FILE - Four-term Alabama Gov. George Wallace in his office at the Capitol in Montgomery, March 26, 1984.
Those candidates have come from across the political and social strata of the country, but in living memory, they have all had one thing in common: abject electoral failure.(VOA)

 

Long list of failed political outsiders

Should he make the decision to fully commit to a presidential run, Schultz would join a long list of outsiders who have sought to disrupt the two-party system that has dominated post-Civil War U.S. politics.

Those candidates have come from across the political and social strata of the country, but in living memory, they have all had one thing in common: abject electoral failure.

It has been more than 50 years since a candidate not representing one of the two major parties in the U.S. won even a single electoral vote in a presidential election.

In 1968, George Wallace and the American Independent Party, running on a segregationist platform, managed to collect 46 of them. (The Libertarian Party candidate received one electoral vote in 1972, but he did not actually win it. It was awarded to him by a “faithless” elector, who was supposed to cast his vote for Republican candidate Richard Nixon.)

The most successful independent candidate since Wallace was, like Schultz, another self-funded billionaire. Texas businessman H. Ross Perot earned about 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, though again, that wasn’t enough to earn him a single electoral vote.

But it is important not to confuse a lack of electoral success with a lack of overall impact, and that’s why Schultz’s potential candidacy is making some people nervous.

Libertarian Jeff Jared of Kirkland, Wash.,holds a sign in support of third parties before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019.
Libertarian Jeff Jared of Kirkland, Wash.,holds a sign in support of third parties before former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks during his book tour in Seattle, Jan. 31, 2019. (VOA)

The Perot effect

Perot’s effect on the 1992 presidential race remains a source of controversy today.

There is little doubt that his intense focus on the federal budget deficit forced his opponents, incumbent President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, to pay more attention to the issue than either would have liked. A larger question is whether Perot helped Clinton win the presidency by pulling votes away from Bush.

Political scientists, by and large, believe Clinton would have won in a two-candidate contest. But there are members of the GOP who still blame Perot for making the elder Bush a single-term president.

Better examples of third-party candidates as spoilers arose in both 2000 and 2016.

The election of 2000 came down to the state of Florida, where Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore were within 0.01 percent of each other when the votes were counted.

FILE - Former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader poses in Washington, Aug. 20, 2009.
– Former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader poses in Washington, Aug. 20, 2009. VOA

In that race, charismatic consumer activist Ralph Nader ran as the candidate of the Green Party. He earned 2.74 percent of the vote nationwide, and crucially, 1.63 percent in Florida.

In a different race, it would have been insignificant. But many believe that the Green Party drew its voters almost exclusively from the political left, with a fatal effect on Gore’s candidacy in the state.

More recently, Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016 may have damaged the chances of Democrat Hillary Clinton in key races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In all three states, Clinton lost to Republican Trump by fewer votes than Stein received. While it is impossible to know how —or even if — all of Stein’s supporters would have voted if she hadn’t been on the ballot, there is broad consensus that she hurt Clinton far more than Trump.

 Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 29, 2018. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 29, 2018. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.. Read more at: https://www.newsgram.com/how-starbucks-magnate-howard-schultz-could-beat-2020-election

Bloomberg wary

It’s the potential for a Schultz candidacy to serve as a spoiler that has Democrats, in particular, sweating over his announcement.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering a run for the Democratic nomination, said he had researched the possibility of an independent run and believes that it would only benefit Trump.

“In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up re-electing the president,” he said in a statement. “The data was very clear and consistent. Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the Electoral College system, there is no way an independent can win. That is truer today than ever before.”

Also Read: Americans Losing Faith In Government, Democrats Seek Voting Rights

But not everyone is convinced that a Schultz candidacy would be uniquely damaging to a Democratic candidate.

“I think the most natural constituency for someone like Schultz would be affluent, white, college-educated voters in the suburbs, some of whom may be transitioning away from the Republican Party,” Kondik said. “Maybe they grudgingly voted for Clinton in 2016. Maybe they grudgingly voted for Trump. Maybe they voted for another third-party candidate, and maybe some of those voters would be open to voting for someone like Schultz.”

Schultz, he said, could actually damage Trump as much or more as he might a Democratic candidate. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s why Americans Prefer Single-Family Homes

Are Americans Ready to Let Go of Single-Family Homes?

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Homes
This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their homes. VOA

By Dora Mekouar

For decades, many Americans have viewed owning their own home as a tangible symbol of the American Dream. But the question of whether that dream includes dividing one single-family home into two — along with other higher housing density options — is about to be tested in a handful of states nationwide.

Virginia is one of the latest states to tackle the affordable housing crisis by considering zoning rules to allow denser — and, potentially, more affordable — housing, in any area now zoned for single-family homes.

“If a property owner feels it fits their need to upgrade to a duplex from a single family’s owned property, then they will go about it through a local approval process,” says Virginia House Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who represents a district in suburban Washington, D.C. “After the local approval process is completed, then they can create their two families’ owned property as they see fit.”

Homes
Virginia lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow an accessory dwelling, for example, a separate structure, basement apartment or garage apartment, on lots zoned for single homes. VOA

Samirah introduced a bill to allow duplex homes, like townhouses and cottages, in any place that’s currently zoned for single-family homes. The specifics of what those multi-family properties would look like will be left to local governments. The bill does not ban single-family homes.

It’s the kind of move toward creating more affordable housing that’s already been introduced on the West Coast of the United States. Oregon was the first state in the country to ban restrictive single-family zoning in July 2019.

Planning experts and local officials say suburban sprawl has negative impacts on the environment, puts a heavier burden on local services, isolates people, and excludes lower income households and households with people of color from certain communities through economic means.

Homes
In Virginia, builder Carrington Homes offers an accessory dwelling unit, a second living unit (left), as an option for their new homes. VOA

A 2019 Harvard housing report found a “relative lack of smaller, more affordable new homes.” The same report finds that about half of all renter households nationwide spend almost one-third of their income on housing.

But the move away from single-family zoning won’t be an easy one.

“At some level, that development pattern is really uniquely American,” says Robert Parker, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at the University of Oregon.

“People who have lived, and grew up, in low-density suburban developments have a strong preference for that. They can’t really envision a future that’s substantially different than that.”

The size of the average house has more than doubled since the 1950s. In 2019, the average size of a new single-family home was 240 square meters (2,584 square feet), according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Americans clearly like their space. But millennials — people in their mid-20s to late 30s who make up the nation’s largest living generation — have their own ideas about what the ideal home looks like, according to a Portland, Oregon-area survey cited by Parker.

Homes
Christine Minnehan sweeps up in front of her “granny flat” located in the backyard of her Sacramento, Calif home . VOA

“Eighty percent of them would prefer to live in a detached, single-family residence, and so it really begins to become a matter of scale and amenity,” Parker says. “A lot of those those younger households are really looking for smaller units in walkable neighborhoods and, increasingly, the development community is beginning to recognize that and thinking about ways that they can build those environments.”

Samirah, the Virginia delegate, expects some pushback from people who are worried their neighborhoods could become less desirable, but he says correctly organizing density can benefit property owners, including those who are struggling financially.

“People think it’s going to be a major shift in the landscape of suburbia. I think that’s a false narrative,” Samirah says. “This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their house, or whatever it may be…If you’re thinking of retiring, instead of selling your house and moving out to another area, it also helps them keep their families in place.”

“You can have a mixture of densities that’s not detrimental to a set of lifestyles that people hold very dear, that will allow housing choice for households that are struggling to find housing that’s affordable to them in environments that are conducive to the lifestyles that they would like to lead,” Parker says.

Also Read- 2000-2019: The Hottest Decade Measured

He adds that the suburban way of life isn’t going anywhere in the near future.

“There’s little that we can do to retrofit suburbia moving forward so that land use pattern is pretty well ingrained and it’s going to be there for generations.” (VOA)