Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mann and Ornstein: Republicans are the Problem

A good piece by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein on how Republicans are the problem in Washington, D.C. today. It is not news to any fair-minded observer of what has been happening over the past 20 years or so.

The piece is worth a full read as I'm sure their book is (I haven't had a chance to read it). But I'll just add a small quibble with one of their points and some full-throated praise for what they recommend at the end.

First, the quibble. Mann and Ornstein argue that Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist are more responsible for the Republican Party rocketing towards the nihilist, do-nothing, and radical party it has become than any other force. They say:
What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
My quibble is that I think this overstates both of these individuals's influence. To put this another way, if an alternate universe existed where everything else was the same and Gingrich and Norquist just didn't exist there, how different would the outcome be there? Not very different in my opinion. Gingrich was a creature of his time. He arrived in the House in 1979, just after the House had completed its fit of institutional reforms of the previous decade and a half. Being in the minority in the House had become a VERY unpleasant place to be and Gingrich experienced only that world. That he lashed out the way he did, with the tactics he used, and with the hateful, angry tone he exhibited is a bit like blaming a child in a broken home for exhibiting emotional problems. If it hadn't been Gingrich, it would have been someone else leading the "Republican Revolution." Worse yet, it might have been someone talented. The same goes for Norquist. The anti-tax movement certainly didn't start with Norquist and it certainly wasn't propelled by his political skill or his ideas. It would have been there either way.

In short, I think blaming these two for the Republican Party's move to the absurd right is giving them far too much credit.

Now, the praise. Mann and Ornstein argue that the only way the Republican Party will be brought back from the abyss is through a reality check from the media and from voters. Voters need to reject a Party that consistently opposes the very policies it dreamed up and has always supported just because Barack Obama now supports them. The media needs to stop pretending that even-handedness means letting "both sides" speak and getting out of the way. Instead, the media should take seriously its role in calling a distortion (or a lie) a distortion (or a lie). The media also needs to stop letting senators off the hook for filibustering and holds. These things are fundamentally undemocratic and, more importantly, corrosive to good government. The Senate is undemocratic enough with its absurd overrepresentation of rural interests. Sadly, there is nothing we can do about that as it is the one thing in the Constitution that cannot even be amended (see Article V). But the media can stop pretending what is happening in the Senate is normal or that it is something that happened before. It isn't and it hasn't.

It is hard to see how either of these things will happen any time soon. But credit Mann and Ornstein for starting us down the right road by stating the truth: The Republicans ARE the problem.

These Kids Today

What's the matter with today's youth? Why don't they just borrow money from their parents and become vulture capitalists???

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Swing State Polls

I said the other day that Obama seems to be doing better in Ohio than he is doing nationally. Today, a few swing state polls seem to confirm that Obama is indeed doing quite well right now.

The Purple Poll shows Obama up by 5 in Ohio, up by 2 in Virginia, tied in Colorado, and down by 2 in Florida. If those are the actual results on Election Day, Romney loses the election for sure. A new Rocky Mountain Poll in Arizona has Obama up by 2 there. Arizona is not an absolute must-win state for Romney but it would be very bad if he lost there.

It is a long, long way to go. But early on, this race is resembling the 1996 race in one key respect. It "feels" stable to me. It doesn't seem like we're likely to see wild swings back and forth in the absence of some big external shock. Intrade has Obama as about a 60% bet to win. I think he's in a little bit better position than that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gallup is Just Not Useful

There was a time when Gallup was the gold standard in polling. Today, their public polls are fairly bad in my view.

8 days ago, Gallup's tracking poll had Romney ahead of Obama by 2 points. Today, Obama is ahead by 7. Sorry, but no.

1) Romney was not ahead by 2 points 8 days ago.
2) Obama is not ahead by 7 points today (although I do think Obama is ahead by a "few" points (maybe 3-4?).
3) Obama did not move the needle by 9 net points in the last 8 days.

If this is Gallup's way of "tracking" the race, it is worse than useless. It is terribly misleading.

Gallup's polling was similarly volatile in 2008. In 2010, their final poll actually overstated the size of the Republican tied. And, if you remember the size of that Republican tide, you'll know that overstating the Republican tide in 2010 was actually pretty hard to do. Now, in 2012, Gallup is generating some negative buzz with their demographic weights and Gallup is suggesting there is a lot of volatility in the electorate that just isn't there, not in the last 8 days anyway.

I'd love for Obama to be up by 7 and I'd also love to be able to say that at the current trajectory, Romney will be in the single digits by the summer. But it is a little more likely that Gallup is producing very bad polls.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's the Matter with Romney in Ohio?

Mitt Romney's got an Ohio problem. When Romney edged Santorum in Ohio, many in the Republican establishment breathed a sigh of relief similar to when Romney edged Santorum in Michigan. It was an important step on the way to Romney locking down the nomination.

But Romney's weakness in Ohio and, frankly, in many of these industrial midwest states like Michigan and Wisconsin seems to be enduring. I have noticed over several weeks and months that Romney seems to be doing a little worse in Ohio than he's doing in his national numbers.

Today, Rasmussen released an Ohio poll showing Obama ahead of Romney 46-42. A week ago, Fox News had a poll showing Obama ahead of Romney 45-39. Let's look at some data. Here is's summary of the race in Ohio:

There have been 10 polls of Ohio with this particular trial heat in 2012 and only one (a Fox Poll in February) showed Romney winning Ohio. The other 9 polls have shown Obama leading by between 2 and 12 points.

Nationally, Pollster's aggregation shows Obama with a smaller lead:

So what's going on in Ohio? I think we can posit a few possibilities: Ohio's anti-union ballot proposition has galvanized union voters to some extent. Additionally, Ohio is home to a lot of parts suppliers for the auto industry and Romney's opposition to the auto bailout hurt him there as much as it did in Michigan. Finally, Ohio's Republicans are more downscale than Republicans in say, New York or California and these are voters more likely to support Santorum than Romney. These same voters won't support Obama and the vast majority of them will vote for Romney in the Fall. But it is not easy for Romney to bring them around and some small number of them staying home can mean big trouble for Romney.

Regardless of the cause of Romney's Ohio struggles, one thing is clear. Ohio is critical for Romney. Romney CANNOT win without Ohio. Obama can win without Ohio though he'd probably have to win Florida and some other states that are tossups and he's not likely to win Florida if he loses Ohio. So Ohio is important and if Romney is going to consistently be weaker in Ohio than his national average, it makes his margin for error in the campaign to come quite a bit slimmer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paging Scalia ...

If only the framers of the Constitution had weighed in on the medical insurance mandate.

Ted Nugent

Some of the most vile rhetoric in American politics:

If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year.
If Mitt Romney has any decency, he'll repudiate it first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Evangelical Latinos

Here's an interesting piece by Troy Gibson and Christopher Hare highlighted by the Monkey Cage on the effect of religiosity on ideology and partisan affiliation among Latinos.

One of the key conclusions is that Evangelical Latinos are roughly evenly split in terms of partisan affiliation while Catholic Latinos are Democratic by better than a 3:2 margin and secular Latinos are even more Democratic. The most surprising findings to me was that among Evangelical Latinos, 47% identify as Democrats and the authors look at Latino Catholics generationally and find that post-Vatican II Latinos are the most Democratic among Catholics.

These are very, very bad numbers for the Republican Party IF they hold in the long run (that's a big "if" of course). I would have guessed that Republicans had at least a nominal lead among Evangelical Latinos but they don't. Additionally, younger generations of Latinos are more Democratic. This is no different than the effect of age on the population as a whole (if anything the effect is muted among Latinos) but it is not a good sign for the future of the Republican Party nonetheless.

One question that is not addressed by the paper is the geographic spread of Evangelical Latinos. Where they are matters a lot at least in terms of presidential politics.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Romney's Ground Game

There's an interesting piece by Zeke Miller of Buzzfeed out today pointing out the way in which a small number of Romney staffers have gone from state to state helping Romney win key primaries. The downside, according to Miller, is that when the primary ends, the staffers leave little behind and so the Romney campaign will effectively be starting from scratch in terms of their ground operation in many states.

Jon Keller and I have had a long-running argument about the importance of the ground game. To put it in the simplest terms, I have argued that the ground game is meaningful in primaries and caucuses, particularly early contests like Iowa, but it is far less important in the general election. I don't argue it is totally irrelevant. In a very tight contest, like say Indiana in 2008, where one campaign (Obama) has a very strong field operation and the other campaign (McCain) has a very poor field operation, the ground game can be the difference. It probably was in Indiana in 2008 and perhaps also in North Carolina. But beyond those somewhat rare situations, the ground game doesn't matter because 1) almost all voters have clear impressions and opinions about the candidates and are going to vote (or not) on that basis and 2) the benefits of the ground game of national level campaigns cancel one another out to a large degree.

The article by Miller is essentially disputing point #2 and Keller would argue I'm at least underestimating the role ground operations can play in shaping voter's opinions and that I'm underestimating the importance of GOTV efforts like the effort of the Bush campaign in Ohio in 2004.

If I'm wrong, Miller's article is certainly bad news for Romney and it is absolutely the case that the Obama campaign has the advantage of a stronger operation at the grassroots generally that has remained in place from 2008 and has been building strength in recent months.

One flaw in my side of the ongoing argument with Keller is that, while I acknowledge the importance of the ground game in a state that is close, we don't know ahead of time which states will be so close as to allow the ground game to make a difference. North Carolina seems a good bet. Ohio and Florida are possibilities. But will Obama have a big enough ground game advantage in these particular states by the Fall to make that difference? I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Obama: Mitt Romney is Weird

Romney's inability to connect is well-documented at this point.

Today, in the middle of his speech on the Ryan budget, Obama was busy tying Romney to it but he slid in this subtle dig.
And he even called it marvelous -- which is a word you don't often hear when describing a budget. That's a word you don't often hear generally.
The way he says it, you can really hear the sub-text ... "Man, that guy is a little off." Here is the video:

Nate Silver is Wrong Again ... I Think

Nate Silver has a piece out today that takes the counter position on what he calls the "counterintuitive" position on the politics of the Supreme Court's (potentially) striking down Obamacare. I think Nate Silver is wrong here. So, I am taking the counter position to his counter position of the counterintuitive position. Got that? Let me break it all down and then explain why I think Silver is wrong.

The debate begins with the claim made by many (Silver cites Mark Penn, Bob Shrum, and James Carville as just a few) that, if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare, it will actually be a good thing politically for the President because he can rail against an activist Supreme Court and rally his base. There are some subtle nuances to the differing arguments but that's the basic theme of them.

Silver says there are three basic problems with this argument:
1. Mr. Obama does not face a major problem with his base, but his standing is tenuous with swing voters.
2. Among swing voters, the health care bill is not very popular.
3. The Supreme Court declaring the health care bill unconstitutional will not make it more popular among swing voters.
From there, Silver goes on to provide data to support these three points and he concludes
the argument that the bill being struck down would actually help Mr. Obama seems to have little grounding in the evidence — nor, frankly, in common sense. Among the voters that are most critical to Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects, the Supreme Court is more popular than the health care bill. If the justices declare one of the president’s signature accomplishments to be unconstitutional, it would not be a boon to him.
I don't think I want to go so far as to say the Court striking Obamacare down would be a "boon" but I do think there is some upside and I think Silver is wrong when he says that the claims of Penn, Shrum, and Carville defy common sense.

The evidence Silver provides for his "basic problems" with the argument is solid so let's stipulate all those things. But there are some logical problems with the argument he's making. First, it assumes public opinion on all these things including public opinion on the Court, is fixed. It is not and part of the argument being advanced by Penn, Shrum, and Carville is that the Court is over-stepping and that Obama will have the opportunity to make that case. Indeed, the President just warned the Court on this exact thing yesterday:

I can assure you these were not off-the-cuff remarks. This was a planned response and it was Obama firing a shot across the Court's bow and letting them know what they can expect to see from him in the Summer and Fall if they strike Obamacare down.

The larger point I want to make about why Silver is wrong has to do with Obama's campaign narrative and the way the Court striking down Obamacare would fit into it. The President has pretty much outlined his campaign message. He did so in Kansas a couple of months ago and he is outlining it again this afternoon in his criticism of the Ryan Budget. Obama is going to argue he's on the side of the middle class and the little guy and Romney is on the side of "fat cats" and Wall Street.

This message seamlessly transplants itself into the debate over health care reform if the Court strikes it down. The 5-person majority that would strike it down (and it won't be more than that as Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan seem to be solidly against striking it down) would be made up of 5 unelected conservative justices who will have gone out of their way to take health insurance away from middle class and poor people who have either already gotten health care because of this law or who would get health care under this law. The public does not know these justices and the public does not understand how the Court operates. Indeed, the justices purposefully avoid the spotlight even when landmark cases reach their chambers. It will not be hard for Obama to paint the conservative majority on the Court as akin to the shadowy Wall Street figures donating massive amounts to the campaign against him. The President can also subtly equate the impenetrable processes of the Court with the impenetrable processes and financial instruments of Wall Street. "Hey, how did Mitt Romney make all that money anyway?!?"