Monday, November 26, 2012

The Way Forward for Republicans

Jeb Bush is not it. Sorry.

I'm not saying Jeb Bush isn't someone Republicans might choose as a presidential nominee. I could see that happening. And that's part of the problem Republicans have. They need a sharper break with their recent past and they seem unwilling to make that break.

As for Jeb himself, some Republicans think he's the way forward because he is well-regarded for his job as Governor and because he is more "Latino-friendly" (not a hard-liner on immigration and his wife is Mexican).

Here's why that's wrong:

1) "Bush" - You can pretty much count the number of times Romney said the name in 2012 on one hand. And this was not a mistake by Romney. The name remains toxic among too many independents and even among some Republicans. Jeb gave a full-throated defense of his brother's presidency at the Republican Convention this year. It didn't rehabilitate GW's image any.

2) Between 1952 and 2004 (52 years and 14 presidential elections), Republicans put together a ticket that didn't have a Nixon, a Dole, or a Bush on it just 1 time (1964). That's kind of creepy. These days, there's a fine line between partisanship and tribalism. Turning back to another Bush gets way too close to the tribalism side of things. The turn to McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 was not quite the "fresh" makeover the Republicans needed. They desperately need that now.

3) Republicans don't so much need new ideas as they need a return to reason and "reasonableness." Mitt Romney actually pledged during the Republican primaries that he would not support $10 in spending cuts in return for $1 in tax increases because this would be $1 in tax increases too much. Voters sense this lack of reasonableness on various issues. A CNN poll out today indicates that 70% of Americans believe the Republican Party does not do enough to compromise with the President while just under half say the same about the President. Jeb Bush cannot be the new face of Republican reasonableness. And that brings us back to the root of the problem ...

The Republican Party has a problem with their base. Both political parties are prone to extremism in their primary processes. But it is worse in the Republican Party. How do we know? Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (not to mention Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry and Donald Trump) were serious alternatives to Mitt Romney in the primaries. They won serious primaries and got lots of votes. Dennis Kucinich ran for president but he never got a significant number of votes anywhere. The radical left does not hold the same sway in Democratic primaries as the radical right does in Republican primaries. It is not enough for Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Jon Huntsman to run. They need to have the space for these candidates to say reasonable things and still win the nomination. That space didn't exist in 2012.

It is a long way to 2016 and Republicans have time. But I'm not hopeful that Republicans have learned the key lessons yet. Nominating Jeb Bush would be a sure sign they haven't learned these lessons at all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

47% ...

... of Americans voted for Mitt Romney as it turns out.

That's poetic justice.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Serious Question About Benghazi-gate

What's this about now?

Let's posit for the moment that Susan Rice was lying on the Sunday talk shows as McCain et. al. seem to be implying. What does she ... or Hillary Clinton ... or President Obama ... or the United States stand to gain from doing that?

In other words, what exactly are they accusing her of lying for? Richard Nixon was lying to cover up a criminal act. Bill Clinton was guilty of lying to save himself from embarrassment. I don't get what Rice, etc., is accused of lying for. And if you can't explain that piece of it, if you can't outline for me what the motive is here, there's no scandal.

So, again, what's this about now?

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Totally disappointed, man"

That's what one Romney supporter said in the wake of Mitt Romney's loss last Tuesday. Of course, this isn't just any Romney supporter. This is the guy who had a Romney/Ryan logo tattooed on his face ... as in permanently. Here's the best part of the article:
Hartsburg’s tattoo covers a 5-by-2 inch space on the side of his face, and he did it after raising $5,000 on eBay for the effort. He didn’t even tell his wife he planned to get the tattoo until about an hour before.

“Right away, she was taken aback,” Hartsburg said, adding that his wife is also a Romney/Ryan supporter.

“My 15-year-old son, however, he was all about it.”
At least Romney has brought one family together. So that's nice.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sorry Ohio ... Colorado Was the Key State in 2012

It turns out Colorado was the tipping point state, not Ohio, in 2012. What do I mean by this?

I took all the states and listed them in the chart below in descending order by the size of Obama's margin of victory (or loss).

Of course, most of the states on the edges are irrelevant to this story so let's drill down to look at the states that Obama won or lost by 10 point or less.

It may not look like it but there is so much worthy of discussion here. First, notice that Obama did better nationally than he did in Ohio. This was not true in much of the pre-election polling and represented a moderate surprise to me. The final pre-election polling average on Pollster had Obama up by 1.5% nationally but up by 3.4% in Ohio. PPP's final national poll had Obama up by 2 but up by 5 in Ohio. There was much discussion in the final days of the campaign that the Romney campaign did not see an easy path in Ohio and that explained the last-minute (and futile) effort in Pennsylvania. But Ohio really was reasonably close.

Don't get me wrong here. That 1.9% victory is not tiny. Remember that Ohio was so saturated with campaign visits and campaign ads that it was probably going to be very, very difficult for Romney to move enough voters to win there. But it was a little bit closer than we thought it would be.

Second, notice that the three closest states Obama won were, as Chuck Todd likes to call them, "FLOHVA." And they were in that order - Florida, then Ohio, then Virginia. Chuck Todd talked a lot about how the election was going to come down to these three important states. I certainly agreed but figured that Florida was kind of irrelevant because, if Obama won Florida, he would already have won Ohio and would already have the 270 he needed. I was right about that latter part but was wrong that ... Obama didn't turn out to need Ohio either. Or Virginia. Wow.

And this brings me to, what is to me, the most interesting point. Colorado was the key "tipping point" state (Nate Silver's terminology), not Ohio. In arguing that Romney was wasting his time in Pennsylvania, I pointed out that the leads Obama had in Ohio and Virginia were so critical that
he can lose Florida, Pennsylvania, and hell, let's give Romney Colorado too. It is still an Obama victory.
But, of course, Obama was never going to lose Pennsylvania. So, when you give Pennsylvania to Obama, it turned out that Obama didn't need Ohio or Florida or Virginia.

Obama finished with 332 electoral votes. But some of these states were close. If Obama lost Florida (29 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes) and Virginia (13 electoral votes) - a complete sweep of FLOHVA - he would still have had 272 electoral votes ... because of Colorado. Colorado is the state that won it for Obama.

And here's the interesting thing about that. Obama won Colorado by 4.7 points. Imagine for a moment that the states all shift equally as the national margin moves. This is not quite true but is not a crazy approximation of reality. If this were true, you could move the national vote 4.6 points in Romney's direction and Romney would still lose. You would be moving from a +2.7 Obama margin to a 1.9-point margin for Romney ... and Romney would still lose.

For most of the 2012 campaign, Colorado was thought of as a sort of safety-valve swing state. It was not given as much attention because the Obama campaign knew they win if they win Ohio. And, while that was true, it was also true the Obama campaign was winning without Ohio. Colorado was the true tipping point state.

When you start to meditate on that reality and then think about what drove Obama to victory in Colorado, you start to realize the trouble the Republican Party is in at the national level.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Axelrod: Becker Was Right About That First Debate

It is not a direct quote. But the point is the same. I argued that the first debate closed the gap on polling not because Obama "bombed" but, rather, because there was upside for Romney. Once he appeared credible, some voters pre-disposed to vote against Obama came home to Romney. Axelrod also agrees that the size of the debate bump was smaller than the media made it out to be.
POLITICO: How much did Debate 1 worry you?

AXELROD: “It was uncomfortable because there was a panic. There are certain things that are predictable in this business: The wheel turns. I always worried about that first debate, because the history of presidents in those first debates is it is like a very, very treacherous pass, and the odds that you're going to have a little bit of a problem are very high, and we did. ... I remember in 1984, when Walter Mondale had a good first debate against Ronald Reagan and people were doubting Reagan: ‘Has he lost it?’ ‘Is it over?’ He dropped like 10 points. He had a huge lead, and the lead closed. So I kind of knew we were in for an uncomfortable period there. But in our data what happened was we went -- that 7-point lead went to like 3 or 4 points, and it was almost entirely because Romney gained. Romney got all that Republican-leaning independent vote back, and obviously it increased enthusiasm among his people.

“Even if we had performed better in that first debate, all the upside was for Romney, because this was the first time that the American people really got a chance to -- 70 million people saw him, and just be performing well, he was going to gain. And, obviously, we helped. But what was interesting about the polling after the debate was we did not lose vote, we did not lose favorability, we did not lose approval. If anything, it ticked up a little. It's just that he made big gains and his numbers which had been under water, almost for months, became more positive.”
Translation: Romney had to appear credible to gain some ground and he did that. There was not much the President could do about that. But the good news is that it also didn't close the gap the way Andrew Sullivan and others worried it did.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Romney Does Not Read My Blog

It seems that Mitt Romney does not read my blog. I am disappointed.

If he had been a fan, he would not have been quite as "shellshocked" on Election Night. I had pointed out that the public polling was "unequivocal" about Obama's likelihood of winning. Indeed, Romney's only path to victory was if the public polls were all systematically wrong.

But somehow the message didn't get through to Romney. Stephen Colbert was similarly shocked and devastated:

Hey, all I can do is put it out there. The rest is on them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There Are Facts

It turns out the polling was accurate all along. Amazingly accurate as it happens.

As I wrote on Sunday, the polls were unequivocal. The only chance Romney had to win was if the polls were somehow displaying some kind systemic polling bias. I explained that that was possible even if it was not likely. Not likely was right. The polls were just right on the mark.

As a side note, not that I'm out for anyone losing their livelihood or something, but I do think there should be some accountability for some of the pundits that were just silly, silly wrong. For goodness sake, take Dick Morris off the air. Seth Masket is right about Peggy Noonan.

Anyone (including the Romney campaign) who considers Pennsylvania to be a swing state should be shut out of the discourse. They're not living in the fact-based world. I continue to defy anyone to show me something insightful Mark Halperin has said. Gallup Poll meet lack of credibility. Lack of credibility, this is the Gallup Poll.

There are facts. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Prediction

Here's my best guess on the final outcome ...

Obama 332 - Romney 206.

Florida is the toughest call of all for me. I am basing my call in part on this brief discussion about Florida from Chuck Todd's Daily Rundown on Saturday:

Chuck points out that the Obama campaign thinks they need to be about 160,000 - 200,000 votes ahead (Dem. reg. vs. GOP reg.) in the early vote by Election Day in order to win Florida. Adam Smith had pointed out they are just over 100,000 ahead on Saturday and it looks like they will fall short of their goal. But where are they today? The Miami Herald reports that Dems are now about 167,000 votes ahead ... in a report posted at 11AM on Monday. They're right in that zone that Chuck Todd suggested they needed to be. Florida is going to be close. But I'll bet on the Obama turnout machine to carry him over the line.

Regardless, the map above does not make Florida a must-win for Obama. I am pretty confident about Ohio at this point. I think Romney's last-minute Pennsylvania gambit was the white flag of surrender in Ohio. But hey, you want to see how strong Obama's position is with Ohio? Let's take the map above and assume I'm wrong about Florida (decent chance) and I'm wrong about Virginia (smaller chance). And then assume I'm wrong about ... Pennsylvania (not a chance!). Without Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania ... Obama wins with 270 electoral votes. At that point, Romney would still need to win some other Obama state.

No wonder Nate Silver's final run of his model has Obama as a 92% bet to win. Sam Wang says Nate is too conservative. He gives Obama a 98.2% chance of victory.

That's 1.8% of pure scary.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Polls Are Now Unequivocal

There is just no way out of it now.

Either a lot of pollsters are going to have a lot of egg on their face or Barack Obama will be re-elected.

Obama's lead in the national polls ( model) is now at its largest margin (Obama +1.2) since October 4, the day after the first debate. The effect of the first debate has generally been overstated as Obama's lead had started to decline before that and he had his largest margin in the Pollster model on September 21 (Obama +4.3). But the margin Obama has now is slim but real.

10 different national polls were released on Sunday and there is almost no variance. 3 have the candidates tied, 7 have Obama with a tiny lead from 1 to 3 points. Rasmussen now has the candidates tied nationally. Only Gallup has not released their poll yet though I'm not sure anything they release has much credibility at this point.

In the all-important state of Ohio, Obama's lead is now 3.2 points in the model. This is his largest lead since (say it all together now) October 4. 11 polls have been released in Ohio in the last few days. Only Rasmussen has it tied. 10 others have Obama winning by between 2 and 8 points. Tonight's PPP poll has Obama up by 5 points.

How about Romney's last-minute Pennsylvania gamble? Pollster has Obama up by 5.6 points. But Pennsylvania has not been polled as extensively as some other (actual) swing states. What if Romney pulls off a miracle there. Can he win?

Probably not. It has flown under the radar a bit but Virginia has been trending to Obama recently. His lead in the Pollster model is now 1.1 points and this on the heels of 6 polls released there in the last few days. Those polls ALL have Obama up by 1 to 6 points. If Obama wins Ohio and Virginia, he can lose Florida, Pennsylvania, and hell, let's give Romney Colorado too. It is still an Obama victory.

Bottom line: Romney needs the polls to be wrong. Could they be wrong? Yes. All of them? Not likely but yeah. It is possible. But pollsters are in the business of being right about this stuff. A Romney win now would represent polling failure of a widespread nature we've never seen. Pollsters have gotten individual states wrong at times in the past. But a whole bunch of states? It hasn't happened in the modern era.

Pew and the Polling Average

The final Pew poll is out today and it is very, very bad news for Mitt Romney. Obama is up by 3 among likely voters.

The polling averages are always the best indicator of where the race stands, especially relative to any single poll. But the Pew poll does have all the characteristics of a good poll.

1) Pew has a good historical track record
2) Pew has a very big sample; 2,709 likely voters were interviewed
3) Live interviews
4) Large numbers of cell-phone only voters were interviewed

This one poll can be wrong because of sampling error. The margin of error among likely voters is +/- 2.2 points which means the margin between Obama and Romney is highly likely to be within the range of Obama +7.4 and Romney +1.4. So there is room to interpret this poll as consistent with a small lead for Romney. But it is a narrow space.

The possibility of bias exists here too. But Pew's methodology is very, very solid in every way a pollster can control. Romney's hopes increasingly depend upon some "X factor" that pollsters are not currently able to identify.

Why Watch the Popular Vote?

The Electoral College elects the president and we all know Obama has an advantage there. But Nate Silver provides a layman's approach to the popular vote for election night.

Put Silver's current Electoral College estimate (Obama is about 85% to win) together with that and what does it tell us? It tells us the national polls are starting to converge with where the state polls are. Silver points out that the 15% chance Romney has is almost all riding on the state polling displaying systemic bias. Now the national polling average is approaching a 1-point lead for Obama (currently +0.6 for Obama). This was not the case a week ago. So now, the national polls AND the state polls are indicating a likely Obama victory.

In the next 24 hours, we're going to see a bunch of final national polls released including Gallup and Pew. NBC/WSJ released their final national poll this morning and they have Obama up 48-47. Gallup being Gallup, they will likely have some outlier result based on their odd likely voter screen. Pew had the race even a week ago.

A week ago, the discussion was all about why the national polls and the state polls were so different. Now they are not as different. Romney NEEDS pollsters to be wrong at this point ... a lot of them.

UPDATE: Pew has their final poll out and Obama is up by 3.

Could It Be ...

... that Dick Morris is wrong??? Obama is winning right now ... and the polls seem to continue to move in his direction.

Here's's national poll chart ...

There are 7 national tracking polls. Obama now has a lead in 5 of them between 1 and 3 points and the other two are dead even. All of this is statistically insignificant but virtually every tracking poll has moved a point or two or three in Obama's direction in the last four days or so.

Sam Wang now estimates Romney's chances of winning the national popular vote as 6%. I won't tell you what Wang says are the odds of Romney winning the Electoral College as it would hurt Romney's feelings. But Nate Silver now estimates Romney's chances as just under 15%.

This is not a lock. It's just an awfully good hand that Obama is holding right now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Will Ferrell Weighs In

Yes, the founder of Facebook. He will eat anything you tell him to eat if you just agree to vote ...


Not that we needed some other indicator that President Obama leads right now but we've got another one this morning. One of the things you see when a campaign is losing is stories quoting anonymous sources about where it went wrong or what might have been or the dreaded, "what's the next step for politician X?"

And so it was this morning as Politico reported that Mitt Romney really wanted Chris Christie rather than Paul Ryan as his running mate. Who knows if the story is true but that doesn't really matter so much, does it? I can assure you, nobody in Romney HQ was plotting out the day saying, "We can really turn this thing around if we could just get a process story out there on how we sorta wanted someone else to be the VP but changed our minds at the last minute!"

Then there was the AP story this morning about how the people around Ryan are already planning what he'll do should the Romney/Ryan ticket lose. You can hear the Alka Seltzer tablets plopping into the glasses of water at Romney HQ now. My favorite part of the article was this:
That is why some of Ryan's biggest boosters are considering whether it wouldn't be better for Ryan to resign from the House. He could write a book — "saving America" is a theme often bandied about — or teach at a university.

After all, on the campaign trail, Ryan is as much lecturer as campaigner. Aides routinely set up giant video screens so Ryan can use visual aids to walk audiences through the minutiae of budget politics. Graphs and charts are as common as yard signs and American flags at some events, with Ryan settling into his role as explainer in chief.

It's no accident he embraces the "wonk" label aggressively. It could make him an attractive figure as a guest lecturer or visiting professor.
Ah academia - the last refuge of failed VP candidates. I'm insulted and that means Romney has now lost the key swing demographic: liberal Jewish political science professors born in the northeast, now living in Los Angeles. I don't see a path to victory in Ohio without that group.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Someone has created a site where I can monitor the status of David Axelrod's mustache throughout the weekend.

It's a Close Election ...

... even billionaires are divided. Yesterday, Mike Bloomberg endorsed Obama. But today, Monty Burns endorsed Romney. The average billionaire will have to find their cues elsewhere I guess.

What You Should Worry About

The election is close and so everyone is nervous. Well, everyone except Dick Morris who is convinced that Romney will win in a landslide as Oregon is now in play (I'm not kidding).

Obama is leading according to the polls. It is roughly tied in the national poll averages and Obama has clear leads in the polling averages in enough swing states to put him over the top for re-election.

So, if you're supporting the President, you have just two things to worry about:

1) Something changes
2) The polls are wrong

Are either or both of these things possible? Absolutely. Are they likely? No. But let's take a closer look at each possibility.

Something changes. What could change in the final days? Some argue that nothing is going to change. Sam Wang, for instance, points out that the cake is now fully baked. He provides statistical proof for this and I find the phrase oddly compelling so I figured I'd repeat it. But it is always possible something could change. For one, a jobs report is going to be released in a few hours. Economists expect that the unemployment rate will tick up to 7.9%. That's probably not enough to damage Obama significantly. But it is an awfully close race and what if it ticks up to 8.0%? Are the optics of that sufficiently bad to do damage? Doubtful, but possible. (UPDATE: The jobs report was better than expected with 171,000 jobs added but the unemployment rate did tick up to 7.9% as more workers re-entered the workforce). What about the so-called incumbency effect? Many (mostly Republicans) argue that most of the undecided voters will break for Mitt Rommey because if they were voting for the President, they'd have been with him already. Is this likely? No. Mark Blumenthal picks that argument apart pretty well.

What about some other wildcard? Hurricane Sandy seems like the last, biggest wildcard and that does not seem to have done any damage to President Obama. Arguably, it has made him look good. Mitt Romney seems to think Pennsylvania is in play and he's headed there for a campaign stop on Sunday. Don't get me started on that. Overall, I think the jobs report is Romney's best bet in this category.

The polls are wrong. The polling data is much more clear than it appears to the naked eye. Sam Wang, Simon Jackman, Nate Silver, Drew Linzer, and others have modeled the probability that Obama does, in fact, have a lead according to the polls and the general consensus is ... "YEAH." But the key phrase in all that is "according to the polls." If the polls are all systematically biased in some similar kind of way, that lead would be a mirage. How often does this happen? Not often. But it is important to remember that polling is at least partially an art. In this era of low response rates, it is not quite as easy as before to ensure you have an unbiased sample. If Obama's lead (and he DOES lead in the key state of Ohio in the polls) were bigger, this would be less of a concern. But it is a small lead.

Of course, the possibility of error goes in both directions. If you watched the video of Stan Greenberg I posted a few days ago, you know there are those who believe the pollsters are undersampling Obama voters. In addition, the Obama campaign claims their superior ground game will help them out-perform the polls. Of course, the Romney campaign claims the same things. The reality is that pollsters are smart people and have staked their reputation on what they're doing. The odds are they are right. Systemic polling failure is possible ... but unlikely.

In the end, there is enough uncertainty to worry about both of these things: Something could change. The polls could be wrong. How much should you worry? As of tonight, Nate Silver has Obama as an 81% bet to win.

That's a high point in the post-Denver (first debate) campaign for Obama. And as Nate points out, you'd rather be holding Obama's cards right now than Romney's.