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Pollsters fear they’re blowing it again in 2022

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Pollsters know they have a problem. But they aren’t sure they’ve fixed it in time for the November election.

Since Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, pre-election polls have consistently understated support for Republican candidates, compared to the votes ultimately cast.

Once again, polls over the past two months are showing Democrats running stronger than once expected in a number of critical midterm races. It’s left some wondering whether the rosy results are setting the stage for another potential polling failure that dashes Democratic hopes of retaining control of Congress— and vindicates the GOP’s assertion that the polls are unfairly biased against them.

It’s not that pollsters haven’t tried to fix the issues that plagued them in recent elections. Whether they’re public firms conducting surveys for the media and academic instructions or private campaign consultants, they have spent the past two years tweaking their methods to avoid a 2020 repeat.

But most of the changes they have made are small. Some pollsters are hoping that since Trump isn’t running in the midterms, the problems of underestimating Republicans’ vote share will disappear with him. But others worry that Trump’s ongoing dominance of the news cycle — from the FBI seizure of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago to litigation against his businesses in New York — effectively is making him the central political figure going into Election Day.

“There’s no question that the polling errors in [20]16 and [20]20 worry the polling profession, worry me as a pollster,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Milwaukee and a longtime survey-taker in the battleground state of Wisconsin. “The troubling part is how much of that is unique to when Donald Trump is on the ballot, versus midterms when he is not on the ballot.”

After 2016, pollsters said the problem was their samples included too few voters without college degrees. The polls were better for the 2018 midterms, though they were still too Democratic on balance.

Then came 2020 — which was worse than 2016, and for which pollsters have yet to settle on a definitive explanation of what precisely went wrong. As a result, an easy fix has proven elusive. But pollsters have mostly agreed that, particularly in 2020, the surveys missed a chunk of Trump’s voters who refused to participate in polls.

The current 2022 polling is wildly favorable for Democrats. FiveThirtyEight’s “lite” prediction model, which is based solely on the latest polling data, says Democrats have a 79 percent chance to retain control of the Senate. That probability clashes with the expectations of both parties and most independent handicappers, who consider the battle for the chamber to be closer to a coin flip.

And the New York Times noted that some of Democrats’ strongest numbers are coming in the states that have seen the greatest polling misses over the past few elections.

Celinda Lake, a prominent Democratic pollster, told POLITICO that her firm, Lake Research Partners, is working hard to get the right balance of voters in its samples — but that a certain segment of Trump voters is increasingly elusive, especially as the former president’s exploits have preoccupied the headlines lately.

“It was less [of an issue] for a long time,” Lake said. “It looks to us like it is getting to be more of a problem recently, with the Mar-a-Lago thing, with his candidates winning a lot of these primaries, with the Jan. 6 committee.”

Her firm isn’t alone in working to mitigate these issues. Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, a longtime player in political polling, released polls last week showing Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) leading GOP nominee Herschel Walker by 6 percentage points, despite other surveys showing a tied race or even a narrow Walker advantage, and Democrats with big leads in both major statewide races in Connecticut.

Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said his interviewers have changed the way they ask respondents about their vote choice, taking care to separate those who say they are undecided from those who refuse to answer the question outright.

“In the end, we’re hoping to reduce that percentage of people that don’t give us a response on the horse-race,” Schwartz said, pointing out that while they accurately reflected Biden’s share of the vote in their 2020 pre-election polls, the large number of refusals led them to underestimate Trump’s. Quinnipiac had now-President Joe Biden leading Trump in two states Trump would carry, Florida and Ohio, on the eve of the election.

Another Northeastern academic pollster, Marist College, released two polls last week: one showing Warnock ahead of Walker by 5 points, and the other showing Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance running neck-and-neck with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan.

Marist also had some 2020 misses, showing Biden leading by 6 points in North Carolina (which he lost) and by 5 points in Pennsylvania (which he won by 1 point) in polls conducted for NBC News. Since 2020, Marist’s Lee Miringoff said the school has diversified its sampling by contacting voters not just via telephone calls, but also text and online interviews.

Miringoff told POLITICO he isn’t as worried about the same non-response bias — the segment of Trump voters who won’t participate in polls, systematically skewing the results toward Democrats — showing up this year. That’s because, he said, Trump himself isn’t on the ballot, and Democrats have mostly erased the GOP’s enthusiasm advantage this summer.

“I’m pretty comfortable that what may have been the case in previous elections may not be the case this time in terms of the misses,” said Miringoff.

In the last midterm election, the most prolific pollster was Siena College in Upstate New York, thanks to an ambitious, roughly $2 million “live polling” project with the New York Times to survey dozens of congressional districts. In all, the Times and Siena conducted just shy of 100 polls that accurately portrayed Democrats’ momentum in their successful bid to flip the House majority.

This year, Siena is doing swing-state polling both with and without the Times, including two new polls last week in Wisconsin and Texas conducted for Spectrum News, cable company Charter Communications’ local news outlets.

Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute, said he is being “as careful as careful can be” to increase the share of Trump voters, both in their sampling (who gets called to participate) and weighting (making them count for more after the interviews are conducted in order to fix their underrepresentation). It’s not enough, Levy said, to just call more Republicans, since it’s a specific kind of Republican whom they are struggling to reach.

“It’s not partisan nonresponse. It’s hardened Trump-backer nonresponse,” said Levy. “A small majority of those are self-identified Republicans, but a significant number of them are self-identified independents or Democrats. You can’t correct that by saying, ‘Let’s weight up the Republicans.’ That doesn’t work.”

Monmouth University, in New Jersey, is trying a different tack — eschewing horse-race polling for surveys that measure each candidate’s level of support without pitting them against one another. Patrick Murray, the director of the school’s polling institute, said his analysis of the 2020 results didn’t reveal a “silver bullet” for fixing their poll, which also failed to predict the closer-than-expected New Jersey governor’s race last year.

Murray cautioned that pollsters who haven’t given up the horse-race that the dynamics of this year’s midterms are different than in the last election — and are likely to be different from the next one in two years. “If the 2022 polls are good,” he said, “it does not necessarily mean we fixed what went wrong in 2020.”

Franklin, the Wisconsin pollster, said he’s made “moderate or marginal adjustments” to the Marquette Law School poll’s methodology, including increasing the percentage of respondents contacted by cell phone. He’s also paying close attention to the response rate for his polls in Wisconsin counties that went more heavily for Trump in the last election — but thus far, voters there aren’t participating in lower numbers.

Another significant polling miss “will continue to be damaging to the reputation of polling,” said Franklin. “I think that’s just obvious and undeniable.”

It may also be inevitable. Partisan campaign pollsters in both parties suggested Trump voters are again difficult to capture in the run-up to this election.

“There is a good chance that a lot of the publicly released surveys are overstating Democratic strength,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster at the firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Amanda Iovino, a Republican pollster at WPA Intelligence who worked on now-Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s race last fall, added, “It’s still easier to get college-educated voters on the phone” than voters who didn’t graduate from college.

Lake, the Democratic pollster, said she sees the measures that her colleagues are implementing to get the right mix of voters. But she isn’t sure that they will be enough to avert another 2020-style polling miss.

“I’m confident that they’re the right things,” said Lake. “I’m not confident that they’re sufficient.”

But some Democrats are daring not just to believe in the polls — but hoping that the party may actually overperform in November, pointing to two special congressional election wins last month in Alaska and New York, where polls showed Republicans ahead going into Election Day.

“You just saw the polls underestimate the victories in both Alaska and in Upstate New York,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview at a POLITICO Pro Premium Roundtable event earlier this month. “So, if anything, the polls may be showing a conservative bias right now.”

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Arizona judge: State can enforce near-total abortion ban

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PHOENIX — Arizona can enforce a near-total ban on abortions that has been blocked for nearly 50 years, a judge ruled Friday, meaning clinics across the state will have to stop providing the procedures to avoid the filing of criminal charges against doctors and other medical workers.

An injunction has long blocked enforcement of a law, on the books since before Arizona became a state, that bans nearly all abortions. The only exemption is if the woman’s life is in jeopardy.

The ruling also means people seeking abortions will have to go to another state to obtain one.

An appeal of the ruling is likely.

The decision from Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson came more than a month after she heard arguments on Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift the injunction. It had been in place since shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade case, which held that women had a constitutional right to abortion.

The high court overturned Roe on June 24 and said states can regulate abortion as they wish.

What’s allowed in each state has shifted as legislatures and courts have acted. Bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy are in place in 12 Republican-led states.

In another state, Wisconsin, clinics have stopped providing abortions amid litigation over whether an 1849 ban is in effect. Georgia bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity and be detected and Florida and Utah have bans that kick in after 15 and 18 weeks gestation, respectively.

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World Bank president says he will not resign, apologizes for remarks on climate science

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World Bank President David Malpass will not resign, he said Friday during a virtual conversation with Global Insider author Ryan Heath. NGOs and leading climate activists have been calling for Malpass to step down after he repeatedly dodged questions about the science behind climate change at a New York Times event Tuesday.

“I don’t even know — I’m not a scientist,” he said at the event.

On Friday, Malpass apologized for those remarks.

“When asked, ‘Are you a climate denier?’ I should’ve said no,” Malpass said, adding later, “It was a poorly chosen line, I regret that, because we as an organization are using the science every day.”

None of the 187 countries that are members of the World Bank have asked him to resign, Malpass said, and shareholders have voiced “strong support, for me, for the World Bank,” he told Heath.

Malpass also said he would “absolutely” accept training from climate scientists to improve his knowledge of the science behind climate change.

“That wasn’t a good phrase for me to use,” Malpass reiterated. “We have a lot of input from our global scientific community.”

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The untold story of Trump’s botched impeachments

It’s hard to imagine a political event that was covered more intensively in real time than Trump’s two impeachments. But only now, 18 months after the Senate acquitted Trump a second time, we are learning crucial new details about what happened behind the scenes of those proceedings. And only now are we starting to reckon with what those two failed impeachments have wrought for Congress, the presidency and the Constitution — and who was responsible.

That reckoning comes courtesy of Playbook’s own Rachael Bade and Washington Post national security reporter Karoun Demirjian, who on Oct. 18 will publish “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump.” It’s an unsparing look at the characters, the calculations and, frequently, the cowardice that shaped Congress’s dealings with Trump — and how the results have likely changed impeachment forever.

On this week’s Playbook Deep Dive, Rachael and Karoun talk extensively about their book and its provocative argument with Playbook editor Mike DeBonis. It’s a reunion for the trio, who covered Capitol Hill together at the Washington Post and watched closely as Congress struggled to hold Trump to account. They discuss why “Unchecked” is an unapologetically “both sides” book, how congressional leaders’ public rhetoric rarely matched private reality, and just how many impeachment articles President Joe Biden might be facing if Republicans take the House.

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Mike Braun likely running for Indiana governor in 2024

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Indiana Sen. Mike Braun is leaning toward running for governor in 2024, a move that would open up a GOP-held seat in what’s become a reliably red state, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The loquacious first-term senator said on Thursday that he’s not making an official statement at this point.

“Where’d you hear that? I’ll make my mind up here down the road, probably before the end of the year. I’ve been talking about it though since I’ve got here,” Braun said in a brief interview. “I’ll make a formal announcement somewhere probably late November, early December.”

Indy Politics reported on Thursday that Braun is informing Republicans in the state about his plans to run for governor and that he will announce after the midterm election, a move typical of lawmakers who are eyeing new offices. Braun’s office declined further comment.

Braun defeated former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), a key pick-up in the 2018 elections that allowed Republicans some breathing room in the chamber during the last two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. In winning the GOP nomination, the Indiana businessman dispatched former Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, memorably portraying each as cardboard cutouts in a TV ad.

As a longtime executive — he was the founder and CEO of a distributing company — Republicans believe Braun’s long been planning a potential run for the state’s executive office. As a GOP senator, Braun’s assembled a reliably conservative voting record and talked about his party’s need to make plans to confront issues like health care and energy.

“In 2018, Mike Braun won a very competitive primary, he’s been a rock-ribbed conservative, and as a former CEO, serving as the next governor of Indiana fits him better than sitting in Washington,” said one Republican who knows Braun, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Should Braun make the leap, it would almost certainly invite a crowded GOP primary for his Senate seat in 2024. Braun’s term expires then, meaning he’ll have to choose between the governor’s race and his own reelection campaign.

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How a zombie apocalypse is informing a new wave of Dem ads

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The final sprint of the midterms has brought another battery of ads, with scores of spots set to ominous music and deep-voiced narrators warning about the perils of the opposition.

But deep into an election cycle once assumed to be a lost cause for Democrats, something new is emerging: A wager from a group of progressive operatives that their party’s success comes down to narrative storytelling presented in an animated format.

Yes, cartoons.

Wide Angle Research, a nonprofit focused on moving politically-conflicted audiences, isn’t forsaking the hard-hitting tactics that have become a trademark of the campaign season’s close. Instead, the operatives pushed even further with online spots meant to mine some Americans’ darkest fears.

In one of the ads, a 10-year-old girl is sedated in a hospital after being raped. A doctor tells her parents she’ll have to return for a pregnancy test as part of a new government mandate. The narrator in the ad says states are passing abortion bans with no exceptions, adding that “a rapist can force himself on a child. But it takes Republican rule to force her to have his baby.”

In another spot, parents are arrested for child abuse for supporting their transgender child. A third one focuses on violent threats to election workers.

The style and format of the ad campaign, produced with help from the firm 76 Words, is built off of more than 18 months of unorthodox research, including studies that delved deep into the psyche of voters. Operatives at Wide Angle Research believe it represents a new frontier in digital campaigning.

“It’s all in the news now about how Dems are focusing on abortion because they’re realizing it’s a very powerful issue for them. And it is,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of Wide Angle Research. “But how does that relate to the fact that election offices are currently fortifying themselves with bulletproof glass because election officials are afraid for their lives? How does that relate to [Texas] Gov. [Greg] Abbott telling child agencies they need to investigate parents who support their trans kids? Dems can make this election about an issue (abortion), or Dems can tie the issues together and make it about something bigger.”

Launched in 2021, Wide Angle Research is not among the best-known Beltway names. Indeed, its website is sparse, Mushovic has spearheaded the project from a cabin in the Colorado mountains. And the group declined to list the names of its funders, save to say that it is supported by several high-net worth individuals who, in Mushovic’s words, “believe it is time to fight back and they hadn’t seen it in the Democratic Party.” But the firm has relationships with other entities in the party’s ecosystem, including Indivisible and UltraViolet; and it partnered with the group Future Majority on its research. That work, while under-the-radar, was praised by operatives in the party tent.

“This research is an attempt to go deeper into the understandings of American voters than most political research can go,” said Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist.

“It’s like adding a third dimension to a two-dimensional image. I find this work compelling, [and] fascinating.”

While the spots portray a dystopian future under Republican control of Congress, the strategists behind them said they’ve gone out of their way to avoid cliched declaratives such as “Republicans are putting our freedom at risk,” which they found were significantly less compelling. Instead, they focused on telling complete stories that weave together a range of issues they’re convinced trigger the strongest emotional intensity.

Those leading the push are hoping the spots will empower Democrats to be far bolder and — in their estimation — more like Republicans when it comes to using issues that elicit visceral responses. They believe the extensive research — thousands of interviews, including dozens of one-on-one sitdowns conducted online with battleground state voters — could also help others across the party as they start to refine their closing pitches for the midterms.

Among the findings of that research is that animation actually works.

Mushovic said with traditional political ads, people would often put up a barrier and, ultimately, it becomes hard to move them. “They would say, ‘That’s an actor. That’s fake. I don’t like that person’s voice.’ And that creates this kind of overarching objection,” she said.

“But now, because it’s a cartoon format, people didn’t throw up that barrier. It’s obvious that those aren’t real people. And they allowed their imaginations to be engaged,” Mushovic added. “It let them really start to wrestle with the question of could this be real in the future?”

Format was just one component of the research the group did. It also asked reams of open-ended, envelope-pushing questions. They invited participants to share images and photos of their own to underscore how they were feeling to account for times when words simply are not enough. The reliance on so-called “metaphor elicitation” was specifically designed not only to explore what people think, but why they think and feel the way they do.

Respondents were asked if the Democratic and Republican parties were a touch, feel, or texture, which would they be, and why? Things that came to mind when people thought of Democrats were cotton, suede and hugs. Republicans elicited coarser materials like sandpaper, corduroy, and dollar bills slapping a person across the face, the research showed.

Indeed, a common image that emerged of Democrats was that of a cuddly bunny (Republicans were described as sinister clowns).

“We’re cute. We’re cuddly but ultimately, we’re ineffectual,” Mushovic said. “You just don’t bring a bunny to a gunfight.”

Among the other questions asked:

Which party would you rather hold power of attorney over your finances? Fifty-five percent of independents chose Republicans, whom they argued would be more frugal with it.

Which political party would you rather be on a desert island with? Eighty-three percent of independents chose Democrats, contending they would make better company.

And, finally, they asked which party would you rather be in charge during a zombie apocalypse? Among independents, Republicans won this one, too: Sixty percent to Democrats’ 50 percent, with 10 percent choosing a combination of both.

Some of the answers the firm half-anticipated — such as the respondent who said they would hate for Democrats to be in charge during the zombie apocalypse because they would stop to ask the zombies their preferred pronouns. Other responses, though, were less predictable. One white man said if it were merely about surviving the zombie apocalypse, he’d have chosen the Republicans. But as he began thinking about the broader community, he worried they’d leave many of the others behind.

Officials at Wide Angle Research believe these responses provide more significant insights into voter behavior than traditionally polling questions, such as which issues they prioritize and how they feel the country is progressing or backsliding.

Gretchen Barton, research director for Future Majority who worked on compiling the studies, said one encouraging result for the group is they believe the findings may have the power to neutralize voters’ real concerns over the economy.

“When we have this strong messaging — what you’re seeing in this campaign — the salience of cost of living dropped and the desire to maintain freedoms and concerns about Republican rule shot to the top,” Barton said, adding it shows such worries “can be top of mind for voters.”

But turning the full slate findings into effective attacks still presented a challenge. Out of more than a dozen different approaches for attacking Republicans tested by the group, most fell flat or altogether failed.

The firms tested the “MAGA-Republican” attack line currently preferred by Democrats, including President Joe Biden, and weren’t impressed by the results. Democrats and voters on the left loved and intuitively understood the term. But the researchers ran into some trouble with independents and moderates, who defined the term far more narrowly, to just a few Republican politicians they considered extreme. That, in turn, caused them to feel like they could still support Republicans for the most part.

Finally, the group found that Republicans felt energized by the “MAGA” term. Some had fond memories of recent presidential campaigns and felt as if the movement had grown beyond Donald Trump. To them, it felt as if they were unfairly being painted as extreme.

In the end, the strategists found that the most effective attack line was among the simplest: that Americans felt they could not trust the GOP with power.

Heading into the campaign homestretch, Wide Angle Research is choosing to make its research available on an open-source basis. Some entities are already taking advantage of it. The group Equality Florida, which advocates for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, is set to run adaptations of WAR’s ads on broadcast TV in Florida.

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UNGA is dead. It’s the sideshows that really matter.

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NEW YORK — If everyone who turns up to the United Nations General Assembly really cared about the things they say they care about, wouldn’t the world be a better place by now?

After decades of progress in reducing poverty and improving health outcomes, in recent years the world has started falling far behind in efforts to meet the 17 U.N. sustainable development goals (SDGs), agreed to by all governments in 2015. On some issues, including gender equality, the world is going backwards.

So what, then, is the point of 150 heads of state and government gathering in New York this week? And can a series of side summits — convening everyone from Clinton administration alums to tech activists to European royals — change anything?

New York City in the second half of September is now a two-week festival attracting all those who deal with global challenges.

Often it’s about seeing and being seen.

Celebrities here can take an easy stand, without crossing domestic partisan political lines. Everyone from Korean megastars BTS to American actors like Matt Damon and Goldie Hawn use UNGA as a platform for their causes.

What was once a chance for national leaders to deliver speeches on a global stage or grab the U.S. president’s ear in a corridor is now a late-summer version of Davos, but bigger.

“When I first came to UNGA in the 1990s it was very sterile. One prepared speech after another. Today it’s the opposite of sterile, it’s where global ideas get tested,” said Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank.

Accessing UNGA doesn’t cost $50,000 a person — as the World Economic Forum does — and New York shopping is better for dictators’ wives. It’s no wonder UNGA has become WEF on steroids.

Much like the WEF main stage, the official UNGA program of leaders’ speeches is often now the sideshow.

In the shadow of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, and with the world’s most powerful authoritarian leaders as no-shows, that’s certain to be the case in 2022.

This year’s speeches can’t be worse than the fully remote 2020 UNGA — which turned into a 30-hour video call — but will be nevertheless be “pretty valueless,” said Richard Gowan, a U.N. process expert who heads International Crisis Group’s U.N. office.

In part, that’s because the leaders don’t listen to each others’ speeches — and they address their own remarks to domestic audiences. “Once POTUS leaves, you have presidents and prime ministers speaking to the diplomatic equivalent of two men and a dog,” Gowan said.

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, which invests more than any other NGO into U.N.-backed health and social campaigns, has a wake-up call for all those descending on Manhattan this week.

Rich countries are distracted. There’s not a lot of focus,” Suzman told POLITICO, bemoaning the lack of progress on key global equity programs. “[We’re]seriously off track for the vast majority of SDGs.”

Too big, and fail

Many participants this week doubt that UNGA is equipped to get the world back to work.

“UNGA has become a gabfest” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “Let’s not lose sight of the legitimacy and authority and responsibility that attaches to nations. If the multilateral system doesn’t work, everything else is compensating for that,” he told POLITICO.

Louise Blais, a former Canadian ambassador to the U.N., agrees that UNGA is falling short of its potential. “Giving a voice to civil society is crucial,” she said, but “trying to cram in as much as possible” means UNGA “has a poor track record in helping to achieve the SDGs.”

Blais said UNGA is becoming unmanageable for many organizations, even large governments.

During her tenure as ambassador from 2017 to 2021, she said 40-50 Canadian diplomats were assigned to work through a 50-page spreadsheet of invitations to between 400 and 500 events during UNGA, to decide whether or not a Canadian official should be dispatched.

Zia Khan, senior vice president for innovation at the Rockefeller Foundation, says UNGA focuses on the right problems, but that both U.N. insiders and outside activists often fail to marry their strengths. “There’s a disconnect between the entrepreneurs who can innovate, and the institutions which can scale,” he said.

“A lot of social entrepreneurs have a hard time getting to scale. They’re courageous and inspiring, but it’s like trying to change how people eat cheese by setting up a hipster cheese shop in Brooklyn. You have to get to the big grocery chains,” Khan said.

The UNGA equivalent of those big chains are global nonprofits like the Gates Foundation and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

The U.N. increasingly relies on these outside organizations to respond to global challenges, and UNGA crowds have taken the hint.

It’s more important to show up for the launch of the Gates Foundation Goalkeepers report or at week-long events like Goals House — a meeting point organized by the consultancy Freuds which pops up at global events year round — than to huddle with health and development officials from national governments.

And big business is getting in on the act, too. Previously seen mostly as donors — UNICEF raises around $2 billion each year form private sources — corporations have expanded their role to be sources of ideas and partners at major U.N. events.

Microsoft is “strategic principal sponsor” of the COP27 climate summit scheduled for November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The company also opened a new U.N. office mid-September, which is bigger than many U.N. embassies — taking up the walnut-paneled 34th floor of a skyscraper overlooking U.N. headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

Microsoft executives say their focus is on using their convening power to engineer large-scale change, doing for global challenges what the company has done to software and other digital markets.

“Yesterday, we had the president of the General Assembly here setting out his plans to take us through to the SDG summit next year. We had the Deputy Secretary General in the evening before talking about the importance of data and sustainable development. In the first three days of this place being open, it feels like we’re having some really important conversations,” said Chris Sharrock, Microsoft’s vice president for U.N. affairs and international organizations.

‘A giant petri dish’

The fringe festival around UNGA is a victim of its own success.

“We all know it’s an absolute shitshow,” said one executive at a global philanthropic organization, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to media. “But that’s also how it keeps growing: we try to get more and more done early, to avoid the shitshow, but we end up extending it,” she said.

“It’s a giant petri dish where everyone’s colliding, but to actually get something done, you need a plan and a deadline for after the UNGA buzz dies down,” Khan said.

Sharrock agrees. “Considering the scale of really difficult global challenges, it’s not right to pretend you can deliver solutions in a week,” he said.

If there’s one concept that animates UNGA-goers it’s partnerships: “People want to sound smart at UNGA. I always hear ‘We need more partnerships,’ and ‘we have to break silos,’” Khan said.

More partnerships hasn’t automatically meant more success in limiting climate change or ensuring fair pandemic responses, “but a silo approach helps people focus time, attention, and resources to get something done,” he said.

Rena Greifinger, who heads experiential philanthropy at PSI, a health care nonprofit, and is managing director of the Maverick Collective, a community of women philanthropists, takes a different view. “This is a week for coordinating. It’s often not the lack of resources, it’s the lack of coordination that catches us,” she said.

“This week has become a recognition that there’s a larger ecosystem of people, and that it takes so many types of players to reach the U.N. global goals and make systemic change,” Greifinger said

As leaders arrive at $1,400 a night hotels to receive prizes for improving food security, and as crystal statues and video tributes are flung at heads of state and government who have been forced to resign, or were assassinated, it’s worth wondering whether more of the systemic change needs to start at home.

But they’ll always have New York.

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Bill Clinton declines to say much about Kenneth Starr

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Former President Bill Clinton attempted to be diplomatic Sunday when discussing the death last week of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led the investigation into him during his presidency.

“I read the obituary, and I realized that his family loved him, and I think that’s something to be grateful for,” he said speaking in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

“When your life is over, that’s all there is to say,” he added.

The Starr investigation began in August 1994 as an effort to sort out a complicated Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater, and its connection to Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the course of the investigation, an affair between Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky was uncovered, leading to Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 and an unsuccessful attempt by congressional Republicans to remove him from office.

Starr, 76, died last week in Houston after what was described by his family as a long hospitalization combating an undisclosed illness. After his years as special counsel, Starr served as president of Baylor University — he stepped down in 2016 after revelations of a sexual assault scandal on campus — and joined President Donald Trump’s legal team during his first impeachment trial.

“I have nothing to say. Except I’m glad he died with the love of his family,” Clinton said of Starr.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she had successful surgery for thyroid cancer

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Friday that she underwent a successful surgery to remove her thyroid gland and surrounding lymph nodes after learning earlier this month that she had thyroid cancer.

The Arkansas GOP gubernatorial candidate and former White House press secretary said she is now cancer-free.

“I want to thank the Arkansas doctors and nurses for their world-class care, as well as my family and friends for their love, prayers, and support. I look forward to returning to the campaign trail soon,” Sanders said in a statement. “This experience has been a reminder that whatever battle you may be facing, don’t lose heart. As governor, I will never quit fighting for the people of our great state.”

Sanders is running against Democrat Chris Jones for the governor’s mansion. Sanders has significantly outraised her opponent and is expected to sail to victory in the red state come November — POLITICO’s election forecast tool rates the state as solid GOP.

Most thyroid cancer patients can be cured with surgery alone. For patients with localized thyroid cancer, when the cancer is only found in the thyroid, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. If the cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes, as it did in Sanders’ case, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

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‘The Bitter End’ to democracy? Hindsight is 20/20.

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UCLA political scientists Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch and Vanderbilt’s John Sides argue that political party identity has become increasingly “calcified” in surprising new ways. Their latest book,“The Bitter End,” describes both the long-term trends and short-term shocks that shaped the 2020 presidential election and continue reverberating today.

What’s driving the increasing distance between the parties and the growing homogeneity within the parties?

Playbook Co-Author Ryan Lizza met Vavreck on UCLA’s campus to learn why so-called “identity-inflected issues” are the great new dimension of political conflict and present a dangerous direction in America.