Archive for category Mitt Romney
House Republicans are miffed that the President refuses to negotiate with them about the government shut down. “He’s willing to talk with Iran, why not us,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned. Yet the truth of the matter is that there is nothing to negotiate. For the good of the political process, for the sake of future Presidents Republican and Democratic, and for the country, the President must remain resolute.
The Republicans are trying to gut or delay the Affordable Care Act, and using a threat to shut down the government as a means of doing so. That is, a group of people do not like a law that was passed a few years ago, and are threatening the entire country’s economy and well being in order to try to stop that law. That’s not how you do it.
In a Democratic Republic, if you don’t like a law you make the case to the public. You get your people elected, and then you change or rescind the law. You do it through a constitutional process whereby the House and Senate vote, confer, and then pass a bill. The President can sign or veto it. Congress can override the veto if they have the votes.
In this case, the 2012 election had Obamacare as a main component of the campaign. Candidate Romney vowed to rescind or at least dramatically alter the act if elected, the President vowed to maintain it. The votes were counted and the President won by a large margin. The Democrats gained seats in the Senate. And though Republicans took the majority in the House, more votes for the House went to Democrats than Republicans.
If it becomes possible for a minority to get their way and undercut laws simply by threatening to shut down the government, a horrible precedent will be set. Rather than letting the democratic process operate, dangerous and destructive games of chicken will become common place. Today it may be the GOP and the Affordable Care Act, but sometime in the future the Democrats might threaten to do the same to stop changes in Social Security.
It’s even worse than that. If the Speaker of the House allowed a free vote on conscience, the government shutdown would be averted. A number of Republicans disagree with the extremist approach being taken. But they are being silenced by a large minority, which has not only stymied the legislative process, but put the world economy at risk.
Whatever one’s view on Obamacare, there should be agreement that blackmail and threats to the very fabric of our country are not the way to oppose it. A case in point: on October 1, the first day that exchanges were up to sell insurance for Obamacare, lots of glitches and problems arose. The GOP could use that in their favor to argue against Obamacare. Instead those stories were under the radar as everyone focused on the shutdown.
I’m not saying the glitches are truly a reason to oppose Obamacare, only that the GOP should be focusing on substance to make their case before the 2014 election rather than playing Russian roulette with the economy and the jobs of nearly a million federal workers.
Today is a gorgeous day in Maine, and one of the most beautiful parks in the US, Acadia National Park, is closed thanks to the fact Congress can’t do its job. When a young child wants to watch TV and a parent says no, often the child throws a tantrum. If the parent gives in, then the child learns that tantrums work, and will more frequently and more vigor go ballistic to get his way. If the parent holds firm and there are negative consequences for the tantrum, the child soon learns that tantrums don’t work and it’s better to follow the rules.
The tea party wing of the GOP is throwing a collective tantrum. To give in would assure that shutdowns, crises and other threats to our stability become more frequent – the tactic will have worked. The President cannot let that happen.
The Republican party is congratulating itself for following through with the sequester and avoiding any new taxes — this time in the form of closing tax loopholes which most Republicans once favored — but the continuing crisis risks putting the country into a double dip recession while the American system appears dysfunctional.
The GOP wants to blame Obama for “not leading.” That’s false. We have a divided system of government and the President has never been able to lead Congress. The President can and has over the decades negotiated with Congress, made compromises, and cut deals, but divided government means checks and balances. When it works, extremes are avoided and pragmatic compromise is reached. When it fails, gridlock ensues.
So what next?
The Republicans are internally divided, as everyone knows. But that’s nothing new, in a two party system there will be vast divisions as a matter of course. Usually parties gravitate to the center, where most voters are. This isn’t happening with the Republicans, at least not yet.
The pragmatists want to move towards the center and relegate the “tea party” wing of the party to the sidelines. They think the core problem for the GOP is that the far right has had too much a say over GOP policies and made compromise seem a bad word. Symbolic is the way the far right torpedoed the effort by President Bush and John McCain to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in 2007. If they had passed that, voting patterns today might be much more friendly to the Republicans.
The most insipid slogan from the far right is that “compromise is a violation of principle.” To pragmatists, strict adherence to “principle” is mindless; context matters and compromise is a virtue. They hope to attract candidates that are moderate, reasonable, likable and able to get things done.
The jihadists don’t want to compromise. Bring on the sequester! Hell, many wanted the US to default on our debt and would be happy to shut down the government. Ted Cruz of Texas acts like a little McCarthy calling people “communist” (note to tea party: calling people communist ceased to mean anything after the end of the Cold War). Believing they represent what America “should be” they are waging a holy war to save the country. They are convinced global warming is a fraud – and due to cherry picking of dubious claims some actually believe that evidence is on their side! Some on this wing of the GOP wants to simply burn everything. They’re holy warriors!
Though it appears that while the jihadists hold the House Republican caucus hostage for a moment, the pragmatists are gaining the upper hand, especially after the unexpected defeats of 2012. Democrats gained in the Senate, kept the Presidency despite economic difficulties, and though the GOP held the house, Democrats got more votes overall. But the pragmatists need to change too – they need to learn how to connect with all voters.
The core problem of the Republican party was on display in the recent interview by Mitt and Ann Romney with Fox News. While most of the time Romney was gracious and reasonable, when they talked about their defeat it was clear they don’t get it. Mitt claimed that Obama appealed to minorities because of Obamacare — get it, that “minorities want free stuff, the government is bribing them” line. That disdain and disrespect for a large chunk of Americans — the core of the 47% quote — is a mindset that destroys the GOP brand. They want to think they are virtuous hard working self-reliant Americans while those Democrats and minorities are lazy moochers who want a handout. That is not only wrong, it’s so idiotic that it borders on the delusional.
Of course, Ann wasn’t much better, blaming the media, acting as if it were self-evident that her husband was right for the job. If anything their interview showed why the country dodged a bullet by not electing him – and how the GOP blame game prevents them from confronting real problems within their message and policy preferences. And Romney is one of the pragmatists!
In an ideal world the Democrats would be coming to the debate demanding tax increases while trying to defend so-called entitlements and aid to those already suffering the most. The Republicans would counter demanding spending cuts and deep entitlement reform.
After a process of negotiation the result would be a compromise. Entitlement reform and spending cuts that piss off the left wing of the Democratic party alongside tax increases that piss off the right wing of the Republican party. The idealists would be trumped by the pragmatists on both sides, that’s how our system is supposed to work.
But that won’t happen. The jihadists have hijacked the Republican party and they won’t compromise. It’s all spending cuts and deep entitlement reform or nothing. And of course, with a demand like that they’ll get nothing. The deficit will grow faster than if they compromised, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
So President Obama needs to make them an offer they can’t refuse. He needs to offer them real cuts through a restructuring of programs that brings about significant savings, in exchange for a mix of tax reform to increase revenue and investments to have our economy competitive for the new century.
The President should be specific. He should expect but not fear criticism from his own left flank. He should tell the American people “these are the cuts and reforms the Republicans want, and we’re willing to compromise and give them that, but they won’t take yes for an answer because they’re protecting tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy fat cats. They care more about protecting the rich than cutting the deficit and reforming wasteful programs.”
At that point, Republican pragmatists will realize that this is the best they can possibly achieve and will be good for the country. They will be able to undermine the jihadists. Without a compromise, it becomes the big campaign issue of 2014. To tea partiers thinking 2014 will be another 2010, think again. The Democrats learned their lesson, they’re already targeting districts for a ground game more like a Presidential year than an off year election.
After all, if the GOP can’t compromise at all, well, all the President has is the bully pulpit and the powers of the executive branch. Expect him to use both.
Many Republicans, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, think that it would be a good idea to change the way we award electoral college votes. A state is allocated electoral votes based on the number of Representatives and Senators they have. So Maine, with two Congresspeople and two Senators, gets four votes. In most states whoever wins the state gets all of that state’s electoral votes.
Republicans would like to change that to award electoral votes by district, which is currently the practice in Maine and Nebraska. So in Maine one vote goes to the winner of the first district, and one to the winner of the second. The final two go to whoever wins the most popular votes in the state.
However, there is a dark side to this idea. While Maine and Nebraska choose their system in a bi-partisan manner, without one party wanting to use a change in rules to rig the election in their favor, plans now are pushed only by the GOP with the specific goal of trying to improve their chance to win the Presidency, even if they lose the popular vote.
Simply, the purpose is to undermine the democratic will of the people so one party can get and hold on to power regardless of whether or not they have popular support. That is the kind of plot one expects to see in third world states rather than a country that claims to be the world’s greatest democracy.
As the maps above shows, even though President Obama easily won the popular vote by a four point margin, with a hefty 332 electoral votes, awarding them by district would have given Mitt Romney the Presidency. Democratic districts tend to be urban and overwhelmingly Democratic – sometimes over 90%, some precincts get no Republican votes! Republican districts in the suburbs and rural areas have a significant number of Democrats, rarely below 30%.
Another problem has been gerrymandering. That’s when the party in power redraws the districts with the intent of using district boundaries to make it easier for their party to win. Consider: the Democrats got far more votes for their candidates for the House of Representatives than did the Republicans. But the GOP easily maintained their majority of seats.
Virginia was the first state to seriously consider changing how it awards electoral votes after the 2012 election. The Republican party there hatched a plan to not only award electoral votes by district, but to give the two extra votes each state has (based on two Senators) to the person who won the most districts rather than to however won the popular vote. That would be different than the Nebraska and Maine systems, and mean that although President Obama won Virginia by 3%, he would have gotten only 4 electoral votes to Romney’s 9! Again, that’s the kind of shenanigans you’d expect in some banana republic.
The Virginia plan appears dead for now, thanks to opposition from two Republican State Senators and the Governor, but many said they didn’t like the timing rather than the idea. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan are also considering such action – all of it very partisan and with intense opposition from the other side. Those are also “blue” states in which awarding by district would give the Republicans a majority of electoral votes.
What would the ramifications of the change be? If a few “blue” states changed their system then it would increase the chance for a Republican to win the Presidency in 2016, even if he or she fails to win the popular vote. But just as the cuts in early voting led to a backlash against the Republicans in states like Florida, the unintended consequences of such a move could hurt the GOP.
Democrats would be forced to compete more intensively in areas they now cede to the Republicans. That could ultimately expand the Democratic party and endanger currently safe Republican House members. Beyond that, state politics would be injected with more anger and partisanship.
One can imagine that Democrats would undo the changes if they managed to get power, and the issue could make it harder for parties to cooperate in times where problem solving is necessary. It is time for Republican leaders to say that changing the way we elect our President is a serious matter and should not be done on a partisan basis to try to use the rules to rig elections.
The Republicans should follow the lead of people like Bobby Jindal who recognize that the party needs to appeal to the majority, rather than looking to change the laws in order to grab power. It is a sign of desperation that some Republicans would even consider trying to change the rules so they can win power even if they can’t win vote. It is also an opening for people like Jindal to take the lead and recast the Republican party to be able to compete to win a majority of votes, not just electoral districts. America needs two strong, competitive parties.
The re-election of President Obama was not unexpected. In fact, having followed the polls and Nate Silver’s modeling of the election it played out almost as if scripted, with no surprises. In my predictions I got only two races wrong, and I knew each was a long shot (NC for Obama, Carmona for AZ Senate). Usually elections hold surprises, this one did not.
At least, not for those of us who believed that the pollsters knew their business and someone with Nate Silver’s track record should be taken seriously. On the far right there was shock, indignation and collective anger and dismay. How could this happen? (Note: I use the term “far right” to differentiate them from average, reasonable Republicans and Romney supporters.)
Many bemoaned the fact that the country “is no longer center-right,” and talked openly about the inevitable decline of the United States. A few on the fringes hoped for a quick decline, with talk about “going Galt” and stocking up on ammo and supplies. Glenn Beck urged people to buy farm land, get as far from the East coast as they could so they can be around “like minded” people and keep the kids away from public schools! The country cannot survive an Obama victory, Beck prophesied. After the heady high of 2010 many found the results of the 2012 election simply impossible to accept.
Two things are happening. Some on the far right are stuck in their own parallel universe. They read each other’s blogs, watch FOX news and listen to talk radio, creating a sense that their own view is far more widespread than it is. Groupthink of this sort isn’t rational, it’s more like a feeling, something “in the air.”
Moreover part of groupthink is to see your opponents as less intelligent, moral or rational than yourself. That the left is “falling for Nate Silver’s statistical mumbo jumbo” or “believing obviously skewed state polls” becomes viewed as self-evidently true. They reinforced each other’s certainty that the left was deluded. Some even fantasized that the left would riot and burn cities if Obama wasn’t re-elected!
That brings me to their second error : a caricatured and completely over the top misguided view of the left. To them the left loves big government and has a victim mentality that rationalizes taking from the rich. The right, in this odd perspective, represents hard working Americans who take responsibility for their success and want personal initiative rewarded. The right is steadfast, rational, ethical, and responsible. The left is wobbly, emotional, greedy and jealous of success.
That explains the level of intense emotion and anger on the right. They have constructed a straw man adversary who represents the worst character traits humans have: greedy, lazy, wanting to steal from others, irrational, unethical, and jealous of success. To them the left is a group of slack jawed moochers relying government to rob from the job creators to give them their flat screen TVs, dependent on a sinister government who trades this ‘free stuff’ for votes. If they truly believe all that it’s understandable how righteous rage, indignation and even resignation come from this election.
The reality is that virtually no one on the left believes people should see themselves as victims. Indeed the key to success in life is personal initiative, a willingness to work hard, and an acceptance that each individual is responsible for their own success in life. The only sense of entitlement is that military service entitles veterans to basic support when they come back, and that after a life of work the elderly are entitled to a basic standard of living and health care.
Moreover, the views of the left are rooted in a sense of liberty that can be traced back to thinkers like John Stuart Mill in Great Britain. Mill noted in mid-19th Century Great Britain leaving the market to its own devices had led to horrific results. The economy was growing, but the workers lived in squalor, working class children weren’t educated, health care depended on wealth, and that social status at birth determined life success, not hard work and personal initiative.
Capitalism and markets are good, but we can use the state to assure that all people have true opportunity. In trying to make sure that people aren’t condemned by status at birth to a life of grueling labor and poverty, the goal is to expand liberty. Create real opportunities for everyone to succeed. Make sure that hard work and initiative determine success, not simply status at birth or how much you inherit.
The left in the US embraces the notion of wealth as a reward for success. Why are so many millionaires Democrats? They don’t hate success or think being wealthy is bad. Rather, the goal is to make sure that if you’re poor you still have the opportunity to become wealthy – that the deck isn’t stacked against you. Again, that’s an expanse of liberty, in line with American values.
The debate should be about how to work towards real opportunity without stifling economic growth and development. What role should government programs play, and are they effective? How do we prioritize dealing with the debt and deficit, how do we restructure our economy to fit the changes of the 21st Century?
So with all due respect to those on the far right freaking out: chill. It’s OK. Democrats don’t want to overturn capitalism, create a country of dependent moochers, or punish success. Indeed no Democratic plan would even raise tax rates close to the levels they were under Reagan. Democrats are open to making reforms of what isn’t working, they want government programs to create opportunity for people to help themselves, not build a dependent class.
It’s emotionally satisfying to imagine the other side as more menacing and less rational than they are — the left does that to the right as well. But ultimately Americans come together and solve problems. Americans recognize that disagreement is an essential aspect of our system — we learn by debating differences and exploring compromise.
Ideology can be comforting – many use it as a way to try to find certainty in an uncertain world – but it’s based on delusion. No simplified model of reality can really capture the complexity of the economic and political realities we face; rather, we have to work to solve problems and be practical and patient. As the President noted, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us. As Governor Romney noted in his gracious acceptance speech, it’s time to put the partisan bitterness and division behind us. Time to get to work!
Yesterday I predicted Obama would win the election Tuesday, based on data from polls, early voting and voter turnout projections. It does not appear likely that state pollsters were statistically biased or that voter turnout will go significantly below 2004 – 2008 levels. Moreover, late polls seem to be breaking for the President. It is still close, but the evidence points to an Obama win.
Caveat: While the headline prediction looks excellent for the President, it’s based on four states that literally could go either way: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire. If they go for Romney, then he’s within 16 votes of the Presidency — Ohio would give the election to Romney. The data suggests to me that Obama is favored in each, but not heavily. The election could still go either way.
Predicting which states he’ll win and what his electoral vote total will be is difficult. I’ve been pouring over information about early voting stats in Florida and North Carolina (my two hardest calls), reading different prognostications and trying to figure out my own best guess. So here goes. First, a number of seats are not competitive:
SAFE ROMNEY SAFE OBAMA
Alabama (9) California (55)
Alaska (3) Connecticut (7)
Arkansas (6) Delaware (3)
Georgia (16) District of Columbia (3)
Idaho (4) Hawaii (4)
Kansas (6) Illinois (20)
Kentucky (8) Maryland (10)
Louisiana (8) Massachusetts (11)
Mississippi (6) New Jersey (14)
Nebraska (5) New Mexico (5)
North Dakota (3) New York (29)
Oklahoma (7) Oregon (7)
Tennessee (11) Rhode Island (4)
Texas (38) Vermont (3)
Utah (6) Washington (12)
West Virginia (5)
VALUE: 144 EV VALUE: 187 EV
A number of other states will only be competitive if there is some dramatic twist in the election. I’ll just list these, giving electoral vote values.
Likely Romney: Indiana (11), Montana (3), Missouri (10), South Carolina (9) South Dakota (3)
Likely Obama: Minnesota (10), Maine (3)* (Maine divides its EV by Congressional district and the 2nd district is only leans Obama)
Total safe and likely Romney EV: 180 Obama EV: 200
And now my state by state predictions for the rest, with explanation where warranted, in alphabetical order:
Arizona (11): Romney: Soon Arizona may join Nevada and New Mexico as swing states or even Democratic leaning if the Latino population in the US continues to predominately support Democrats. It is possible that a surprising uptick in Latino votes could push Arizona into Obama’s column — that’s why it’s listed out here. The polls suggest that strong white support for Romney will keep Arizonia with the Republicans.
Colorado (9): Obama: This was a hard state to call. It’s been at times in the polls for Obama, and at times for Romney. Republicans are doing well in early voting. A strong Latino vote and late polls that leaned Obama cause me to award it to the President. Also today reports are that the Romney camp is down on Colorado due to internal polling.
Florida (29): Obama: I thought as late as yesterday that I’d guess Romney on this one. But the early voting was phenomenal given the shortened time period (near equal to 2008), and a backlash against attempts to limit early voting might work against Romney and the Republicans. Also, I think polls might be underestimating Latino votes (note – as becomes clear, this may be an election Obama owes to Latinos). I think voter turnout will be high, and Obama will pull it off.
Iowa (6): Obama: Obama hit this state hard at the end, and most polls showed him pulling away, though not to the extent they did in other swing states. Still, this is where it started for him, he’s winning the early vote big time, and recent polls have looked strong.
Maine 2nd Dist. (1): Obama: I live here, and it’s definitely the rural/conservative portion of Maine. Still, both polls I’ve seen suggest Obama has a decent lead, and I expect he’ll take the district. I wouldn’t be shocked if Romney got this EV, but the election doesn’t seem to be trending this way.
Michigan (16): Obama: Pretty easy call, though some late ad buys and a couple close polls made it at least conceivable Romney could do well. Most polls show an easy Obama win, especially given the auto bail out.
Nevada (6): Obama: This one is closer, but most polls show Obama with a decent lead of about 4%, and Romney stopped really competing for it in the last week. This suggests that they consider it out of reach and in Obama’s camp.
New Hampshire (4): Obama: Polls have varied widely for New Hampshire, and this is a state that likes to defy expectations, whether in primaries or general elections. It’s often forgotten that if New Hampshire had gone for Gore in 2000 Florida would have been irrelevant – Gore would have won. I was very close to giving this to Romney, but some huge rallies, good late polls and lots of effort by Obama there towards the end suggests that they’ll have the momentum to pull it off.
North Carolina (15): Obama: North Carolina is another that had me switching sides — first I thought Obama should take it, then new polls and the very narrow margin of 2008 made me lean Romney. After all, nobody expects Obama to do as well in 2012 as in 2008, do they? So I’ve been reading about early voting results, the mood in North Carolina, and watching what the campaigns are doing. Since I think this election is breaking towards Obama, I decided, perhaps more from the heart than the head, to give this to Obama. I was about to call it for Romney but when I saw that early voting increased over 2008 I decided to take a bet that this means very heavy turnout. Still, I’m sticking my neck out here!
Ohio (18): Obama: Ohio has been polled more than any other state, it seems, and the polls are overwhelming in favor of Obama, some late polls by a solid margin. Early voting has also been strong in Ohio, and I read reports that Republicans were alarmed by the level of early voting in Democratic counties over the final weekend (the weekend where the Legislature and Governor didn’t want anyone but military families to be able to vote early, until overruled by the courts). So everything points to a clear Obama win here. If Ohio is really close, that could be a sign that the Romney team’s assumptions about this race were accurate after all – an important state!
Pennsylvania (20): Obama: Late ad buys and a final appearance by Romney cause many to think that the GOP considers Pennsylvania winnable. John McCain made a similar effort in 2008. Yet Obama has had pretty consistent leads in most polls (and those that show otherwise tended to be outliers or partisan). With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is a real prize. If you have to gamble, this is the place to do it. But Obama should win by at least 5.
Virginia (13): Obama: Until a few days ago I was leaning Romney on this one, but late polls seem to be breaking for Obama. Virginia does not have no excuse early voting, which is one reason I thought Romney might pull it out, especially if Democratic enthusiasm is even a bit down. Still, given the late polls I end up giving it to Obama. Not as hard a call as North Carolina, but this could go either way.
Wisconsin (10): Obama: Wisconsin was to be in play with the choice of Paul Ryan of Janesville as Romney’s VP candidate, but all signs are that Obama is finishing strong here. On Monday Bruce Springsteen opened for Obama in Madison. How many people can say that they’ve had Springsteen as their opening act?
So, add all these together and the result is:
OBAMA: 347 EV ROMNEY: 191 EV
Popular Vote: National polls have moved to give Obama a one or two point lead. They now seem in line with the state polls. I don’t expect Obama to win the electoral college and lose the popular vote, in part because the small states that go red tend to have smaller population to EV ratios. I’ll predict Obama 50.8 Romney 48.2.
The House of Representatives: I have not been following the House races closely enough to make an informed prediction. In 2010 I paid more attention and the best I could do was to pick a range of Democratic loses from 29 to 69 – it’s hard to miss with that kind of range! All I can do this year is say that I think the Democrats will gain at least ten. If things really break their way they could take the House back, but from what I can tell even Democratic optimists doubt that.
Same Sex Marriage: It looks very much like it should pass here in Maine — it was close in 2009, and that was an off year election which allowed the evangelicals of the state to have a stronger impact. I’m not sure about Minnesota, Washington state and Maryland. Polls in three of the states show about 52 – 45 in favor of same sex marriage (not sure about Washington state’s polling). Polls tend to overstate support, so it will likely be much closer. If it were to pass in all four states this would be a watershed, perhaps the most historic aspect of the 2012 election cycle. Even if only one state supports same sex marriage this will mark its first success in a referendum, and that would be a big deal.
So it comes down to tomorrow! However it turns out, this has definitely been one of the more topsy turvy and interesting general elections in recent history. It’s been fun to watch! Don’t forget to vote!
The election seems to breaking President Obama’s way. A tweet from Nate Silver put it this way: “Sample average of national polls released Thursday Obama +0.9, Friday Obama +1.2, Saturday Obama +1.3, Today so far Obama +1.4″
The veritable Pew Research Group, which had Romney up four after the first debate, found them even after the second, and on Sunday found Obama leading 50-47. The national numbers finally seem in line with the state numbers.
Still, I’ve been struggling with this prediction. The national polls remain close. Team Romney wants to claim that this means the election will entail a razor thin victory which could go either way. That sounds very plausible. Yet the state polls have shown a convincing lead for Obama, though greater in breadth than depth. Moreover Republicans have argued that the polls are wrong because they are making false assumptions about voter turn out or purposely skewed to support Obama.
Whose assumptions are right — those expecting a close race and lower Democratic enthusiasm, or those believing Obama is on track to win?
Here are my assumptions:
1) Voter turnout will be roughly in line with 2004 and 2008, with Latino vote increasing.
2) While early voting won’t be dominated by the Democrats this time (after 2008 there was no way the GOP would punt on that the way McCain had), the increase of GOP voters doesn’t mean a large increase in Republican votes. That’s because Republicans are very likely to vote anyway. It just shows that both parties recognize the importance of early voting and are making it a priority.
3) The polling this cycle is not off base or skewed. Blaming the pollsters is common for the side that’s behind.
Dr. Michael McDonald predicts a turn out of 60-61%, and he specializes in making such calls. That’s in line with 2004 and 2008. Moreover, 2008 was not a year where voter turnout increased massively due to Obama’s “hope and change.” To expect a decline in turnout in a hotly contested election in which billions were spent doesn’t make sense. Finally, in surveys Latinos and blacks show intense enthusiasm for the election, even though Republicans claim their voter share will go down.
In many states efforts to pass voter ID laws and limit early voting may in fact be spurring on minority turnout. It’s not just about President Obama, it’s personal. “Governor Rick Scott would prefer I don’t vote,” one black man said. “I’m not going to let him win.” Indeed, the so-called “voter suppression efforts” of this election cycle may backfire.
Going over the polls from each day over the last month, the election has followed a clear if often tumultuous path.
After the two conventions it seemed President Obama was on a roll. The GOP convention had sounded bitter and pessimistic while the Democrats beat an optimistic drum. Just when Obama’s convention bounce started to fade the “47%” tape came out. Romney seemed a caricature and Obama supporters like myself started to think this could be a landslide.
Everything changed on October 3. It wasn’t that Obama was so flat it was that Romney was so different than his image. Rather than barking out a desire for massive tax and spending cuts with disdain for government, he came off as a reasonable moderate. He was nothing like the Mitt Romney of the GOP primary season, nor did he sound like the plutocrat dissing the “47%.” He was reasonable, clever and made the President look ordinary.
The President’s support had been soft, based on a strong negative view of Governor Romney. Public perception of changed. He caught up to Obama within days, and by the time of the second Presidential debate had opened up a 3 point lead. The campaign was slipping away from the President. He was still ahead in most swing state polls, but it was clear that the firewall he constructed in September was a Maginot line — a defense Romney could circumvent and overcome.
While Vice President Biden’s defeat of Paul Ryan energized Democrats, it was the second Presidential debate that stopped the bleeding for Obama. He was perceived as having won the debate by putting Romney on the defense and turning potential problems (like Libya) into strengths.
The third Presidential debate saw an inverse of the first. This time Governor Romney, believing momentum on his side, sat on the lead, hoping to look Presidential and undercut any image of him as a war monger. He was docile, agreed with the President, and polls gave Obama a victory by about the same proportion they gave it to Romney in debate one.
Since then there has been a slow, steady drift back to the President Moreover, Governor Romney never sealed the deal after the first debate. He showed that he could be moderate and pragmatic but never gave people a true reason to vote for him.
Until the last few days I was not confident that Obama was going to pull this out. It “felt” like Obama was winning, but intuition is a dangerous indicator. Bias is driven by intuition and hunch. If it “feels” like the race is going the way you want it to, it’s probably because you want it to! Bias can blind people to the obvious.
I look over at right-leaning blogs and note that their belief Romney will win tends to be driven by conspiracy theories (the polls are purposely skewed in some vast left wing conspiracy to demoralize Republicans) or scenarios not justified by data (there will be very low turnout from minorities and Democrats or people are sick of Obama and will make up their minds late to make a change).
The evidence suggests Obama is heading towards victory. Not a sure thing, but I think Nate Silver’s 85% odds are on track.
Monday I’ll post my predictions on how the states will go as well as some thoughts about the House and the three same sex marriage ballot initiatives which may end up making this an historic election. Two more days!
Hurricane or “Superstorm” Sandy (weirdly nicknamed Frankenstorm by some) is likely to go down in history as the costliest storm of all time. That’s because it hit the heavily populated New Jersey coast, with a major impact on New York city. Four days after the storm made landfall parts of lower Manhattan are still without power. The storm came ashore late Monday and while it passed quickly, the damage was immense.
Sea water poured into the New York subway system, sharks were seen swimming through the flooded streets of Atlantic City, scores of people died, and power outages affected over 8 million. In Virginia and West Virginia blizzard conditions prevailed. This was no normal storm, it was a category one hurricane meeting up with a storm system crossing the northern US and converging in a freak event, exactly one week before a closely contested US election.
Coming as it did at the start of the last week of intense partisan campaigning, it’s natural that people glance away from the direct impact and ask “what does this mean for the election?”
Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey who gave the keynote address at the GOP convention in Tampa last August, is having none of that, explicitly saying “I don’t give a damn about the election.” He’s heaped praise on President Obama for cutting through the red tape, surveyed the devastation with the President, asserting that when his state is suffering the worst disaster in its history politics doesn’t matter.
For Christie, this is real. You could tell in his speech that he is shaken a level of destruction that is both massive and impossible to heal quickly. Suddenly it’s more important to get aide to those suffering and assure a quick response than to worry about who will win next Tuesday. Many Republicans are incensed. One strategist fumed that Christie should have dismissed Obama’s efforts by saying “he’s doing what any President would do.” Rush Limbaugh called Christie Obama’s “Greek column” and chastised him for welcoming the President when Mayor Bloomberg would not. The partisans are in the middle of a war, to them Christie has committed an act of betrayal.
Most surreal was the criticism coming from the chastized FEMA head of the Bush years, who is widely seen as failing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He said Obama acted too quickly in response to Sandy. I had to make sure the story was real, I thought it must be from The Onion. Yes, better to wait and let people really need help before getting involved!
Apparently he was trying to tie it to failed attempts by Republicans to stir up a scandal around the Benghazi attacks in September. Not only do Bush era officials Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice defend the Administration, undercutting Republican attacks, but really? He brings that up in the wake of a major hurricane? Brownie and disaster go together!
But the storm does have an impact on the election, at least in terms of the campaigning. It’s unlikely to shape the outcome, but it puts Governor Romney in the awkward position of not wanting to seem insensitive to the plight of the victims but needing to attack a President who appears to be pulling ahead in a tightly fought race. Campaign events are replaced by hurricane relief efforts, with the Romney campaign purchasing supplies to assure the visuals are right in case his supporters neglect to bring contributions along. Romney surrogates launch vicious attacks while the governor tries to soften his rhetoric. Awkward, but what else can he do?
Both campaigns are awash with so much money that they’re buying commercials everywhere; for the first time the last week isn’t about where to invest precious resources. At least the commercials don’t have to fake wanting to tone down partisanship. But what impact will the storm have on the election?
1. News coverage. Normally the two competing “closing arguments” of the candidates would be dominating the news. From Monday to Wednesday the campaign seemed almost invisible as the focus was on the devastation caused by Sandy. This will change, but given that Romney needs to gain some traction before next Tuesday, it’s made his job more difficult. Moreover the photos and news of Obama touring the region and by all accounts leading a successful response can only enhance his reputation.
2. Obama’s Campaign. President Obama had to cancel a number of campaign appearances, something his staff and volunteers in the swing states no doubt regret. He is the number one weapon in firing up the faithful and urging them to turn out with enthusiasm on election day. Yet I don’t think this will hurt his campaign. Late rallies have a limited impact, and hey – he’s got Bill Clinton working the campaign trail.
3. Climate Change: How the campaigns can ignore this issue given the drama of this storm hitting as it did when it did is beyond me. After the election look for a renewed push for action on global warming.
4. FEMA is good! In the primary campaign Governor Romney suggested FEMA be replaced by state efforts or even the private sector. Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget envisioned massive cuts for the emergency response agency. Now both are back peddling – reality trumps political posturing. Big government is sometimes absolutely essential!
Campaigns are games, contests in which professionals craft messages and try to manipulate the voters in the same way McDonalds tries to manipulate potential customers. Those caught up in the game read reality through the lens of their particular partisan preference. Ultimately, though, reality bites. Reality is more than soundbites, more than gaffes, more even than who’s economic plan makes more sense.
If Obama wins Republicans may blame Sandy, saying their man had momentum but the weird last week stifled his progress. If Romney wins Democrats may claim that if Obama had been able to campaign the last week he’d have energized more voters to turn around swing states. Neither will be true, but after the fact narratives are often self-serving. But win or lose, both President Obama and Governor Christie made the right choice: they put their jobs ahead of politics. In a time of crisis, that’s the right thing to do.
Scenario 1: We wake up on Wednesday, November 7th and read about how President-elect Romney seemed to defy the odds to win by a comfortable margin, 52 – 49. He eeked out narrow but clear victories in most of the swing states, and Republicans managed to take slim control of the Senate.
Democrats are shocked and disappointed. All the polls said it was close, Obama’s ground game was supposed to pull it out, and what about Nate Silver’s odds heavily favoring the President? Republicans will feel vindicated that they represent what Americans believe.
Scenario 2: President Obama is re-elected in a narrow but clear victory thanks to how he held on to leads in swing states, buttressed by his ground game. He may or may not win the popular vote, but neither did George W. Bush in 2000. Democrats will also gain in the Senate, something that would have seemed impossible a year before. Democrats will be relieved and feel their vision of the future is winning, while Republicans start soul searching about how they need to transform their party.
How can two very different scenarios each be plausible? Simple: the polling data shows a close election and two different dynamics. Due to inherent uncertainty about which dynamic is actually in play, there is no way to be confident that any conclusion is truly likely.
One reason people discount scenario one is the popularity of New York Times blogger and statistical guru Nate Silver. His models have worked with amazing predictive power in the last two elections cycles. He knows what he’s doing. So when he makes Obama a clear favorite, that has to be taken seriously.
Yet as a social scientist who deals with qualitative and interpretive methods, I warn against reading too much into a quantitative analysis and model. It’s not that such work isn’t good, it’s just that the world is so complex and multi-causal that even good models fail sometime. That’s why Silver’s model gives Romney a 25% chance of winning. In essence a set of assumptions are built into how the polls are treated in Silver’s model (economic factors matter too, though their relative importance dwindles by election day), and if for some reason in this election cycle those assumptions are off, the other guy wins. Silver thinks there’s about a 25% of that happening.
Though Gallup can go off base, it has got a good track record overall. The conventional wisdom (and one suggested by Nate Silver as well) is that Gallup’s methodology is somewhat off. Since the rule of thumb when looking at polls is to distrust the outlier, it has become easy to distrust Gallup.
Yet after releasing a Politico/Battleground poll yesterday showing Obama up 1, pollster Ed Goeas mentioned that their election modeling suggests Romney should win 52-47 — a result eerily similar to Gallup. And, since Gallup stays mum on a lot of how they get their numbers, it could be that they’re integrating some kind of election model in their poll that is similar to that used by the Battleground poll.
That means that a couple big name pollsters with good track records have a model or set of assumptions that yields a clear victory for Romney. Simply, the assumptions built into the methodology of the different models yield different results.
While Silver has developed a model using the universe of polls out there and other data, individual pollsters like Gallup use their own data and then make assumptions about how voters will behave on election day. This leads them to make assumptions about actual turnout by different demographic groups. This could include party identification, intensity, certainty to vote, age and other factors that might not be used for publishing individual poll results.
Gallup has said it expects the 2012 electorate to look much like the 2008 electorate in demographic make up. Yet the trend has been for minority turnout to increase. Gallup apparently believes that lack of voter intensity will keep those voters at 2008 levels.
If these assumptions are right, then Obama’s lead in the swing states is not only soft, but illusory. The dynamics favor voters coming out decisively for Romney. Silver’s model takes the history of polling accuracy into account, the models favoring Romney look at how history guides understanding who is truly likely to vote.
In short, it all comes down to voter turnout. For instance, polls show Latino voter intensity to be very high this year, one poll saying 80% intend to vote.
As this graph shows, however, less than 50% of Hispanics voted in the 2008 election, a number little changed from 2004. If Latino voter turnout actually does increase, assumptions based on the 2008 election may be wrong, and that could swing a number of states and the total vote towards Obama. Moreover, geography matters. The national trend may not change much, but if get out the vote efforts alter them in key swing states, that could make scenario two more likely.
But with swing state leads for Obama very small, the kind of shift that Gallup seems to envision could put states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina in Romney’s pocket. It doesn’t take much.
One week from the election it comes down to a simple question of who is going to go out and vote. Two very different election results are plausible, respected analysts have models that declare each one to be likely. Who is right will be determined by who votes. That’s democracy!
On October 27 RAND showed Obama up in the race for the Presidency by six points, 50.93% to 44.58%. Since the second debate Obama has increased his lead dramatically. If RAND is right, Obama is home free.
On that same day Gallup, the granddaddy of all Pollsters, showed Romney up among likely voters 51% to 46%. The race is tied among registered voters at 48% to 48%.
All other things being equal, it would be tempting to simply say that Gallup should be trusted. As I’ll describe later, RAND is using a very different methodology than traditional pollsters, and the default conclusion is that RAND’s result is so off from other polls because of this methodological quirk.
There are two reasons I’m not going that route. One is bias. I support President Obama and if Gallup is right then the race is essentially over, Romney wins. Yes, one can lose the popular vote and win the electoral college, but a 5% popular vote loss is too big a hurdle. If Romney is ahead by that much, he’ll win enough states to coast to victory.
The second is that Gallup is as much an outlier as RAND. While Rasmussen also shows Romney with a large lead (four points), most polls show the race even or trending slightly Obama. IBD/TIPP has Obama up two, with a stable lead. Reuters also shows Obama up two, while PPP has the race tied. Moreover state polling shows consistent leads for Obama. The leads are smaller for Rasmussen than other pollsters, but there is no way those state polls can be accurate if Gallup is right. So there are objective reasons to doubt Gallup’s numbers. (Whew!)
RAND’s “American Life Panel” is unique among polling operations this election cycle — I don’t know if this approach has ever been tried with so much time and effort. From their website:
“Since July 5, 3,500 participants in the RAND American Life Panel (all U.S. citizens over the age of 18) have been invited to answer three questions every week:
- What is the percent chance that you will vote in the Presidential election?
- What is the percent chance that you will vote for Obama, Romney, someone else?
- What is the percent chance that Obama, Romney, someone else will win?”
Simply, they are not polling a new random sample every night, but keeping the same 3500 participants for the duration. They don’t screen them to see if they are likely voters, or even assign them to one or the other candidate. They weigh their votes and likelihood of voting according to how they answer the questions. 500 are invited to participate every day on line, so each day’s result is from the previous seven days. They weigh the results to match the demographics of likely voters.
There are reasons why this method might favor Obama, though Romney did hold the lead in July and early September. All participants have internet connections, meaning that it could be pulling in more professionals than working class folk, especially among the white population.
Beyond that, people are also likely to self-report a higher likelihood of voting if they’re allowed to choose a probability. Someone who probably won’t vote might say there’s a sixty percent chance that they will. Independents may be more willing to split their preferences (e.g. 55% Romney 45% Obama) even though in a traditional poll when forced to choose they would pick who they’ll eventually vote for. Using percentages given by the participants themselves may yield funky data.
RAND of course knows this, but points to benefits of this approach. It should better capture trends, and may give real hints as to what the middle — undecideds or soft supporters of either candidate — are going to do. If the numbers aren’t accurate at least the trend lines should be.
Gallup, on the other hand, uses traditional methods, but they’ve had their share of problems in the past. In previous years Gallup’s tracking polls have shown rapid swings and have at times given unbelievable results. Nate Silver analyzed this and suggests that the likely voter screen is the reason they are so far from the pack. Gallup may be overly sensitive to enthusiasm or screening in a way that under counts support for Obama. Gallup counters by noting they do weigh by demographic factors in their final numbers, expecting the 2012 voting population to be much like 2008.
There are other concerns about national polls — how geographically diverse is their sample? If they over sample the South or the Midwest, voters of all demographic groups are more likely to be supporting Romney. Gallup doesn’t give full answers, but insists their data and their likely voter screen is solid. Gallup’s numbers have been more stable this election cycle, in part because they use a seven day rolling average.
Yet between the two are “the rest” – the majority of polls that show the race tied. Then there are the swing state polls that show Obama’s leads stable, if smaller than last month. The trend lines in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina — states that Romney needs – look better for Obama than for Romney.
So what to make of all this? Nate Silver has Obama’s odds of winning at about 75%. Intrade’s traders put Obama’s odds at 63%. Average poll trends in the swing states show Obama improving on lows before the third debate.
In ten days we’ll know a lot more! My own view is that RAND probably overstates Obama’s edge because if these 3500 people are polled every week, they are likely motivated to pay more attention to the race. I won’t speculate on why doing that would help Obama, but it is the kind of factor that RAND can’t control for. On the other hand, it’s feasible that the trend lines RAND shows could be accurate for undecided or “soft” support. If that’s true, Obama may be leading by more than most people realize.
Still, Gallup may be right. If the poll stays stable and Romney rolls to a surprising victory, then Gallup has the last laugh. Romney supporters can’t count on that, but it’s better to be up five in Gallup than down. However, I suspect Gallup’s methodology is generating poll results that inflate Romney’s lead. They are not only an outlier (though joined recently by Rasmussen), but they have been an outlier for over a week, suggesting this is systemic rather than the result of funky data.
For now the good news is that partisans of each candidate have some polls to give them comfort in the emotional dash to the finish. After all, if your guy is going to lose, it’s more fun to enjoy the last days of the campaign believing he’ll win.
I started this blog “World in Motion” back in May 2008, with my first blog post about comparing cyclone Nargis with hurricane Katrina. That meant I was blogging through fall election campaign so I decided to look back at how I was describing the last days of that campaign.
Some posts were light. The world series was going on, and it reminded me that in 1980 I was rooting for the Phillies and put a big “Tug McGraw for President” sign on my door (he was the relief pitching ace for the Phillies, if you never heard of him). 2008 felt a lot like 1980, Americans were ready for a change.
I didn’t keep track of all the polls, but exactly 11 days before the election I wrote about the polls which showed a clear lead by Obama over McCain, usually by 4 to 6 points. A few polls had a double digit lead, and IBD/TIPP showed Obama up only one. The state polls had comfortable leads for Obama, though one (Strategic Vision) had McCain up in a couple swing states and in striking distance of others. That company still exists, but focuses on marketing. It was one of those partisan polls that tried to make the race seem closer than it was.
On October 27th I wrote about “Democratic Gloom and Angst,” about how Democrats were convinced that negative tactics and dirty tricks in the waning days of the campaign might give the election to McCain, here’s part:
“Moreover, many are convinced that the negativity will be ratcheted up, perhaps with new video from Rev. Wright, or some false but yet believable rumor that will be pushed out at the end of the campaign, without Obama having time to effectively respond. It doesn’t have to change the whole dynamic, just win enough votes to win the “red” states they need on November 4th. Indeed, some are convinced that the faked attack on a McCain worker, who claimed a black man attacked her and carved a “B” in her face, was part of some kind of dirty trick. She’s from Pennsylvania, the state McCain hopes to flip by scaring those in the western part of the state to think Obama is too strange and risky. Even if they don’t like McCain, perhaps they can be persuaded not to vote for Obama.”
In hindsight that election looks like it was an easy victory for Obama – a country in economic turmoil with a young candidate promising hope and chance alongside an old out of touch McCain. At the time, it didn’t feel like a sure thing to most people. I also had a post about early voting and the ground game, which hit on some of the same themes I wrote about yesterday.
I’d forgotten one post “Desperation Breeds Stupidity,” bemoaning the fact Elizabeth Dole, a woman I’ve always admired, had an ad attacking her opponent Kay Hagan, an elder in the Presbyterian church and a Sunday School teacher:
“In the ad a tough narrator notes that Kay Hagan held a fundraiser that was ‘hosted by the Godless Americans PAC,’ showing clips of people from that group calling for God to be removed from the pledge of allegiance and from money, and in general dissing religion. ‘What did she promise them’ in exchange for the fundraising, the ad asks. It ends with a close up of Kay Hagan and a voice saying ‘There is no God!’”
It didn’t work, North Carolina’s junior Senator is now Kay Hagan.
On the weekend before the election I had a post “Is McCain Surging?” The Drudge Report and right leaning media tried to create the sense that the race was tightening and McCain might pull it off:
“To look at the Drudge Report, you’d think McCain has been steadily inching closer to Barack Obama, and is within striking distance of taking the popular vote lead and running the sweep of toss up states necessary to come from behind and win the election. Last week it was a “shock Gallup poll” which showed the two within two points using the ‘traditional model’ for likely voters. By Sunday it was a ten point race in that group again. But no matter, Rasmussen showed it narrow to three points, so that was cited — well within the margin of error! Alas, it expanded back to five points, and Rasmussen declares the race “remarkably stable” with Obama at about an 85% chance for victory.
Then it was the IBD/TIPP poll which has always showed a tighter race. And finally on early Saturday morning Drudge screamed out that ‘McCain leads in overnight polling!’ Wow! He must be zooming back. For the Obama fans, this is their worst case scenario, another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, an unexpected comeback. For the McCain faithful this plus slightly tightening polls in Pennsylvania and Ohio shows that their come back scenario is on track — they can do it!”
Watching the current race, which is much much closer, I’m reminded how hindsight has 2020 vision. Now it appears as if after September 15th when McCain suspended his campaign and then seemed to flail around helplessly in trying to respond to the economic crisis, Obama was a sure thing. Nobody is talking about the “Bradley” effect this year. That was a big deal in 2008, a belief that people tell pollsters they’ll vote for Obama because they don’t want to appear racist. That led many on the right to discount Obama’s lead, sort of like the “skewed polls” this year.
This year is much different. The election is closer, the dynamic is uncertain. Yet a lot remains the same – polls give information but can be used to mislead. The Drudge Report often seems to be occupying an alternate universe. And it’ll be an intense final days with rumors, hopes and fears on all sides causing partisans to experience a full range of emotions. Get ready for the ride!