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The Daily Strategist

October 22, 2014

Here Comes Over-Interpretation



One of the things I dread about every Election Night is the tendency of pundits and spinners to over-interpret the results. It could very easily happen this year, because this has every appearance of being a sui generis election, and one with virtually no predictive value for the next cycle. I went through some of the reasons this is the case at TPMCafe today:

If Democrats hang onto the Senate, it could be a sign that the election was not as "nationalized" as expected, or inversely, that a national GOTV effort succeeded in helping them overcome the usual "midterm falloff" problem. And if Republicans win Senate control, it will show their ability to take advantage of a very favorable landscape and adjust to unexpected challenges like viable independent candidacies in Kansas and South Dakota, or underwhelming campaigns like those of Thom Tillis and David Perdue.

But is any of this an omen for what will happen in the next cycle, as big elements of the punditocracy will undoubtedly try to make it? Not so likely. 2016 will feature a different electorate (younger and more diverse) and a very different landscape. In the Senate, that landscape will go from being extremely pro-Republican this year (21 Democratic seats up, 8 in states carried by Romney, and 15 GOP seats up, just one in a state carried by Obama) to being extremely pro-Democratic in 2016 (24 GOP seats up, 7 in states carried by Obama, and just 10 Democratic seats up, none in states carried by Romney). Only three of this year's Senate battlegrounds (North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa) are expected to be presidential battlegrounds (if a fourth, Georgia, becomes one, that will be very good news for Democrats).

Moreover, the issue landscape and candidate dynamics in 2016 are likely to be different. If the U.S. economy continues its slow but steady improvement, by 2016 the "economic issues" will likely focus on the quality rather than the quantity of jobs. While it's possible the sort of plague-of-frogs international environment the U.S. is dealing with now will continue or even intensify, that's hardly probable. And of course, whereas 2014 is an indirect and partial "referendum" on Barack Obama's performance as president, 2016 will be more of a "two futures" campaign dominated by presidential nominees. The likely (though hardly certain) Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is probably not going to be viewed as any sort of protege of or surrogate for Obama, thanks to her own vast public profile.

So this election matters, but not because it's necessarily going to tell us much of anything about 2016. Fortunately, that cycle begins on November 5, so maybe some gabbers will forget to tell us the outcome has already been determined.


Early Voting in TX Brightens Dem Hopes



Nate Cohn of NYT's The Upshot doesn't see any good news for Democrats in early voting data thus far. But maybe he should take a closer look at Texas, where early voting numbers are encouraging for Dems. As Zachary Roth writes at msnbc.com:

After an energetic Democratic campaign to get new Texas voters to the polls, turnout rates spiked on the first day of early voting in the state.

According to figures released by the secretary of state's office, Texas' six largest counties all saw increases in voting Monday compared to the first day of early voting in 2010, the last midterm election.

The voting surge came amid an intense push by groups supporting Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, to register and mobilize millions of new voters, many of whom are minorities. The effort was led by Battleground Texas, a group of former Obama campaign veterans aiming to make the state competitive over the long term. Texas has long had some of the lowest voting rates in the country.

Roth notes, however, that Davis still trails in polls and cautions that more data will be needed to substantiate Democratic hopes for an upset in the making. Still, adds Roth:

The turnout numbers were striking. In Tarrant County, which contains Davis's home base of Fort Worth, 29,391 people voted Monday, nearly three times the comparable number for 2010. Heavily Hispanic El Paso County also saw a nearly threefold increase.

Harris County, which contains Houston, saw 61,735 voters Monday -- an increase of more than 11,000 compared to the number who voted on the first day in 2010. Bexar County, containing San Antonio, saw an increase of nearly 7,000 voters. In Dallas and Travis (Austin) counties, the increases were respectively nearly 3,000 and nearly 1,000.

More than one-third of Texans live in those six counties.

And those same counties have grown by 373,000 since 2010. Texas may indeed become the proving ground for the 'GOTV can trump polls' strategy.

It looks like Wendy Davis has created an exceptionally-tough campaign. Put that together with a sharp, appealing candidate, worrisome economic and education indicators and a Texas tradition of electing feisty Democratic women, and it all spells rising trouble for Republicans in the Lone Star state. Here's her ActBlue page.


October 21, 2014

Minimum Wage on Ballots May Hold Dems' Senate Majority



It's too late to put any more minimum wage measures on Nov. 4 ballots, but signs are that it's a good way for Dems to go, looking forward. As Sarah Burnett writes in an AP story:

Looking to motivate younger people, minorities and others in their base to go to the polls on Nov. 4, the party has put questions on the ballot in five states asking voters whether the minimum wage should be increased. The issue is also a near-constant topic on the campaign trail, as Democrats work to identify themselves as stalwarts for the middle class and to paint Republicans -- who typically oppose raising the wage because they say it will lead to job cuts -- as uncaring.

In one state, Illinois, the campaign to support the minimum wage would not actually raise the wage. The ballot question is non-binding and would only ask voters their opinion.

But for getting out the vote, the issue is "a winner with everybody in our state," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who said he urged party leaders to put it on the ballot. "So encouraging people to vote that issue when it came to the ballot questions, and contrasting Democratic positions with Republican positions, I thought was a worthy issue for this election campaign."

Burnett notes that Republican candidate for IL Governor of Bruce Rauner "admitted he'd made a mistake after video surfaced of him saying he was "adamantly, adamantly against" increasing the minimum wage," and now says he supports it. But his Democratic opponent Gov. Quinn's campaign is playing the "adamantly" video clips repeatedly.

Minimum wage hike questions on the ballot could also help Dem Senate candidates s in Alaska, Arkansas and South Dakota, where Republicans have opposed it. In Nebraska the hope is that it will help Dems win a Republican-held congressional seat.

Burnett adds,

Minimum wage proposals tend to be popular even in conservative states, said John Matsusaka, a University of Southern California economist who studies public ballot issues. All 10 of the statewide measures considered since 2000 have passed, he said...Although ballot initiatives generally increase turnout by about 1 or 2 percent, Matsusaka said, it's less clear how they affect candidates on the ballot.

In today's polarized politics across the U.S., with so many close races, anytime Democrats strongly support a hugely popular measure like a minimum wage hike and their opponents oppose it, Dems should try to put it on the ballot wherever it is possible. To do otherwise would be political negligence.

And if Democrats retain majority control of the U.S. Senate it's quite possible that these minimum wage measures on ballots will have played a pivotal role.


October 20, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



At VOXXI Tony Castro explains "The midterm paradox of the US Latino vote," noting a new Pew Research study which finds that "It comes as a disappointing paradox that though a record 25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote in these midterm elections -- comprising 10.7 percent of eligible voters nationwide -- they only make up a small share of voters in the many states with close Senate and gubernatorial races this year...Specifically, in the eight states with the closest Senate races, just 5 percent of eligible voters on average are Latinos and average substantially under half of the national average."

With respect to the TX governor's race, however, Wendy Davis's campaign is betting substantial resources on turning out the Latino vote, reports Gromer Jeffers, Jr. at the Dallas News. Davis describes "her voter turnout program as the "most significant field operation that state has ever seen."

E. J. Dionne, Jr.'s column on "The Blue Collar Imperative" notes "The elections in Georgia and Kentucky are different in important ways, but one lesson from both is that Democrats can't win without a sufficient share of the white working-class vote." Despite oft-cited concerns about racial resentments among white workers, "race is not the only thing going on. Andrew Levison, the author of "The White Working Class Today," says it's important to distinguish between racial feelings today and those of a half-century ago. "It's not 1950s racism...It's more a sense of aggrievement -- that Democrats care about other groups but not about the white working class." Dionne adds "younger members of the white working class are more culturally liberal than their elders. They are also more open to a stronger government role in the economy, as Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the Center for American Progress have shown." Further, "Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, says this points the way toward arguments that progressives need to make in the future: "We have to expose the unholy alliance between money and politics," she says. "Concern about inequality is unifying, it's cross-partisan, and it's not ideological."

The Wall St. Journal's Janet Hook and Patrick O'Connor discuss the "Democrats' New Senate Move: Backing Long-Shot Candidates."

"On Friday, two Democrats running in key Senate races called for a temporary travel ban from countries battling Ebola: Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Georgia's Michelle Nunn," reports Sean Sullivan at Post Politics. Furher, "A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that shows 67 percent of Americans would support restricting entry to the United States from countries fighting dealing with an Ebola crisis."

In the CA state legislature, "Democrats' hope of Senate supermajority could rest with 2 districts," according to Patrick McGreevy's L.A. Times post.

At The New Yorker Jelani Cobb's "Voting by Numbers" shares some interesting data, including that "black women had the highest voter turnout of any segment in the country in 2008 and 2012" and "A Gallup poll conducted in July found that sixty-three per cent of respondents believed that we would be better off with more women in elected office. (The partisan divide on the question was noteworthy: seventy-five per cent of Democrats agreed with the sentiment; forty-six per cent of Republicans did.)"

In his post, "Dems Take Comfort from Early Voting Numbers," The Plum Line's Greg Sargent offers some encouraging data for Democrats re the IA Senate race: "The DSCC says that...over 170,000 Iowans have already voted in 2014, a 63 percent increase over 2010...A DSCC official emails: 'Among those ballots cast, nearly 7,000 more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans. Our models show that Bruce Braley has a lead of over 15,000 votes among those who have already voted, thanks to a 25-point lead among the unaffiliated voters who have already voted...The recent Des Moines Register poll also showed Braley leading among early voters. But here's the key nuance. The DSCC official says its model shows Dems are bringing in significantly more non-2010 voters than Republicans."

From Stephanie Simon's Politico post "GOP Schooled on Education Politics": "Accusing Republicans of cutting programs for students while giving tax breaks to the rich motivates diffident voters more than similarly partisan messages on reproductive rights, the economy or health care, veteran Democratic political strategist Celinda Lake found in a series of focus groups and polls...Lake's research, commissioned by MoveOn.org, included a survey of 1,000 Democratic voters who said they weren't sure they'd bother to vote in the key states of North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Colorado and Iowa. Coupling the education theme with talk about the middle class falling behind was "nearly a slam dunk with these targets," Lake wrote...Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg came to a similar conclusion after polling 2,200 likely voters in battleground states. They found that unmarried women in North Carolina and Georgia were particularly swayed by messages about expanding access to early childhood education. In Iowa and Colorado, affordable college loans hit the mark. Combining those issues with an appeal to raise the minimum wage, they wrote, creates a "powerful, populist opportunity to shift the vote."


October 17, 2014

Why "Personhood" Matters



There's been quite a bit of discussion during this midterm cycle about the "Personhood" movement and its efforts (via ballot initiatives and proposed federal and state constitutional amendments and statutes) to give zygotes the full rights of citizenship, in order to infallibly protect them from destruction via abortions, IV fertilization, or certain kinds of birth control.

But "Personhood" has become a real problem from pols who embraced that radical Cause and are now getting heat for it, including most notably 2014 Senate candidates Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis. So they're distancing themselves from it, and even trying to depict themselves as "moderates" on reproductive rights issues because they don't really share the Personhood movement's most radical tenets. But it won't go away that easily, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

In a fascinating look at the Colorado-based Personhood USA organization, Irin Carmon explains why this fring-y cause is getting so much attention this year, and why it's deplored by both GOPers and "mainstream" antichoice groups. The bottom line is that its efforts are blowing the cover of a GOP/RTL strategy to incrementally ban abortions (and eventually "abortifacient" birth control methods) by focusing on controversial late-term abortions and such deceptive practices as the increasingly popular "medical conditions" restrictions that are shutting down clinics in a host of states. The Personhood folk hate the indirect strategy, and want to hold everyone's feet to the fire to make sure they will embrace the least as well as the most popular antichoice measures.
What Personhood USA wants is culture change. Specifically, they want a culture where fertilized eggs are paramount, without exceptions, and anyone who stands in their way - including the woman carrying an embryo or fetus - is subject to the criminal code.

They aren't there yet, but they're getting closer. "Being around for six years," [Personhood USA communications director Jennifer] Mason said, "we've changed the way the country talks about abortion."

She's right. Candidates who call themselves pro-life are being called out by parts of their base for not going far enough - far enough being Personhood. Evangelical Protestants being drawn into the previously Catholic terrain of the contraception wars are working from the Personhood playbook, and growing its coalition. The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, which refused to question Personhood's unscientific claims in allowing religious owners of companies to opt out of covering contraception for their employees, was the biggest public relations coup yet for Personhood's worldview.

Even Republicans who have at one point embraced Personhood and are now denying or deflecting their stances - as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst have -are still operating on Personhood's terrain.

Here's the key thing to understand:

Nor is Mason bothered by the sometimes fierce battles fought among anti-abortion factions on how Personhood is spoiling everything. "It's important to note that they do agree on the goals," she said of her fellow abortion opponents. "In fact, even before we got involved, Personhood has long been considered the end game for the pro-life movement." She's right about that too.

As is the case with a lot of arguments within the GOP and the conservative movement these days, regular old antichoice pols and the Personhood folk agree on principles and goals but differ on strategy and tactics. If they could run the country, they'd run it the same way, with no abortions legal anywhere and with IUDs and Plan B contraception either banned or under a legal cloud.

So the "Personhood" debate is a useful optic for understanding the relationship of the GOP with extremist groups, and why Republican claims of "moderation" are so often exaggerated at best and plainly deceptive at worst.


Creamer: GOP Fear-Mongering In Overdrive, Despite Record of Inaction, Obstruction



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

They're back. Like the fourth sequel to a bad horror movie, the Republican Right has once again chosen to embrace its long ignoble, hypocritical tradition of pandering to -- and stoking -- fear.

As the election nears, their ads are filled with images of ISIL terrorists, Ebola viruses, Secret Service breaches, and "porous" borders through which knife-wielding Muslim extremists are surely infiltrating every corner of our society.

It's not just disgusting. It's also hypocritical. The fact is that the Republicans have an abysmal record when it comes to defending the security of ordinary Americans.

Last week, the New York Times reported that:

Darkness is enveloping Americans politics.
With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are -- from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous -- central in their attacks against Democrats. Their message is decidedly grim: President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm.
But this is nothing new. Right-wing demagogues have perfected their techniques for appealing to our darkest fears for decades. It's embedded in their DNA.

Who can forget Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950's who fomented the "red scare" and claimed to "have in his hand a list of Communists" who had infiltrated the government -- of General Dwight Eisenhower. McCarthy and his followers cowed many in politics, government, and entertainment with charges that they were "un-American" for years before his tactics so sickened the country that the term "McCarthyism" is now used to denote " the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence".

Then there was Sarah Palin, who fabricated the fictitious "death panels" of the Affordable Care Act.

Even the genial George H.W. Bush won election by stooping to the racist demagoguery of the infamous "Willie Horton" commercial.

Last summer, you would have thought that there was an enemy army at our southern border -- not 10-year-old refugees from violence in Central America.

And earlier this month, Congressman Duncan Hunter "revealed" that his secret sources had tipped him off that ten ISIL terrorists had been apprehended at the border trying to infiltrate the United States. Turns out that, according to the Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol, Hunter's charge was sheer fabrication based on no evidence whatsoever.

But the thing that really makes this kind of fear mongering so outrageous is the fact that Republicans themselves have such a horrific record keeping Americans safe and secure.

Let us recall that the worst attack on our homeland in American history -- 9/11 -- occurred after the Bush administration had ignored warnings that Osama Bin Laden was planning an attack. That attack did not happen under Bill Clinton or Barack Obama -- it happened under Mr. "War on Terror" George W. Bush.

And let's also recall that for all his bravado following the attack, the Bush administration failed to apprehend Osama Ben Laden. Barack Obama did.

Of course it was the Bush administration that kicked over the sectarian hornet's nest in Iraq in the first place, with a completely unnecessary war that was bungled so badly that it created a Sunni power vacuum and created the conditions for the development of ISIL.

And the Iraq War was, itself, the product of precisely the same kind of Republican fear mongering we see today. It was, after all, Saddam Hussein's non-existent nuclear program that the war was ostensibly launched to destroy.

Remember Condoleezza Rice's famous line: "But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?

Republican advertisements try to sow insecurity with their disturbing images of Ebola viruses and the fear of an American epidemic. But they don't mention that it was the GOP that has slashed funding for the Centers for Disease Control -- the first line of defense against Ebola and other viral threats to the United States.

And in real dollars, Republican budget cutting has also slashed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 23 percent over the last decade. In fact the NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins says that if the agency had not gone through a 10-year slide in research support a vaccine for Ebola would be ready today.

The GOP has made much of recent Secret Service security breaches at the White House -- without ever noting that their sequester has starved the Secret Service of needed personnel.

The most disgusting GOP ads this cycle are probably the ones that whip up fear of immigrants flooding into America and bringing with them diseases and embedded ISIL terrorists. These amazing ads take all of the ingredients of Republican fear mongering and conflate them into an inflammatory cocktail of fictitious boogeymen. They are all aimed at playing upon the legitimate economic anxiety of ordinary Americans and convincing them that Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are endangering their safety and security.

And, of course, they completely ignore that by every measure the borders of the United States are massively more secure today than they were during the Bush administration.

If you broaden the lens to focus on that underlying economic insecurity, the Republican record gets even worse. It was Republican George W. Bush whose economic policies led to the most catastrophic meltdown of the economy in half a century. When Barack Obama became president the economy was bleeding 800,000 jobs a month. Obama's stimulus policies, on the other hand, have led to the longest sustained period of private sector jobs growth (55 months) in modern history.

Most middle class Americans -- and those aspiring to be middle class -- wouldn't have a clue from their personal lives that America is in fact wealthier per person today than at any other time in history. That's because those Republican economic and tax policies allowed the top 1 percent of CEOs and Wall Street bankers to siphon off virtually all of the economic growth America has experienced over the last 30 years and left the middle class with stagnating incomes.

The GOP has consistently opposed changing the Bush era tax policies that greatly contributed to the ever-greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. And they have fought tooth and nail to stop popular Democratic proposals that would improve the economic security of the middle class and prevent the continued concentration of wealth -- like raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, continued unemployment benefits, asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and lightening the burden of student loans.

Then there's retirement security. The Republicans failed plan to privatize Social Security would have eliminated the Social Security guarantee and forced middle class families to rely on the ups and downs of the stock market for their retirement prospects. If your idea of retirement security is a Las Vegas roulette wheel, the GOP is the party for you.

And now they have tried the same thing with Medicare -- with a wildly unpopular plan to replace the Medicare guarantee with vouchers for private insurance that would raise out of pocket costs for seniors by several thousand dollars a year. And the Republicans say they are concerned with our "security"?

Let's not forget Republican fear mongering about the budget deficit. Throughout the Obama presidency, GOP-Tea Party politicians have inveighed against an "exploding deficit" that would surely turn America into an economic basket case. America will go the way of Greece, they claimed.

All of this deficit handwringing has been intended to promote austerity policies intended to allow them to shrink government down so it can be "drowned in a bathtub." Never mind that those austerity policies have been a disaster in Europe where they have actually been tried.

But once again the GOP has not stopped at fear-mongering. Its deficit hypocrisy has been nothing short of breathtaking. The truth of the matter is that it was the Bush-Cheney regime that left the nation with ballooning deficits as a result of their tax cuts for the rich and spending on the Iraq War. During the Bush years, Cheney was quoted as saying "deficits don't matter." So it shouldn't surprise anyone that as they left office the federal deficit hit a whopping 9.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

And, the Obama stimulus policies that Republicans claimed would explode the deficit have actually shrunk the deficit by over half. It is now anticipated to be only 2.8 percent of GDP in 2014 -- lower than its average for the last 40 years of 3.1 percent.

It's no surprise given this record that the GOP has resorted to fear mongering and demagoguery so often in its history. When you really just represent the interests of the top one or two percent of the population -- of the Corporate CEO's and Wall Street Bankers -- it's hard to convince ordinary Americans that they should entrust you with the leadership of their country unless you can distract them with fear. The GOP offers fear because it cannot offer hope.

Republicans have a horrible record of securing the nation against physical danger and against economic disaster, so to compensate they bluster on and on about the "security and safety" of the American people.

They're like the sanctimonious televangelist who rails on and on against fornication and ends up getting caught in bed with an underage hooker.

And in the end, history will deal with the demagoguery of Right Wing Republicans like Ted Cruz the same way it dealt with demagoguery of Joe McCarthy. If he's "lucky" maybe future generations will even label all acts of demagogic, hypocritical fear mongering as "Cruzism."


October 16, 2014

Political Strategy Notes



Josh Kraushaar has a clue for Dems, particularly Michelle Nunn in GA in his National Journal post, "The Democrats' Most Effective Midterm Message: Outsourcing: Taking a page from Obama's 2012 playbook, Democrats have found a winning message in a dismal political environment." But it's not only Georgia; Kraushaar notes that the issue has traction in IL, MN, CT, MA, or pretty much any electorate with substantial numbers of "blue- and gray-collar voters that aren't that enthused about shiny young capitalists."

Luke Brinker presents compelling evidence at Salon.com for "How the minimum wage could tip key midterm races."

At NBC News.com Mark Murray writes of the GOP lead in a new national bipartisan NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: "Their edge over Democrats (two points among likely voters) is narrower than it was at this same point in 2010 (seven points), suggesting the GOP won't see the wave-like gains it made in the last midterm cycle." Republican Bill Mc Iturff notes, "When you are sitting on top of an unstable electorate, there is a joker in the deck." Murray notes further, "And in perhaps the best news of all for Democrats...they're leading Republicans in congressional preference among registered voters in the top-11 Senate races, 47 percent to 42 percent. That's a reversal from a month ago, when Republicans held a 10-point lead in the top Senate races."

Crystal Ball's Sean Trende observes, "To predict Democrats retaining Senate control, you basically have to bet on (a) Democrats sweeping South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, and North Carolina; (b) picking off enough Republican seats in very red states like Kentucky, Kansas, or Georgia to offset any losses in (a) or; (c) systemic polling failure. You can make a plausible case for each of those scenarios, with (b) probably being the most likely. Regardless, given the current state of polling and knowing how races have behaved over the past few cycles, those really do appear to be the options left for Democrats."

At Post Politics Sean Sullivan explains "Why Georgia looks more promising than Kentucky for Senate Democrats."

Talking Points Memo's Dylan Scott explores "The Strategy Dems Are Betting Will Save Mark Udall -- And The Senate":...Focus on two core Democratic constituencies -- women and Hispanics -- and an unprecedented, data-driven get-out-the-vote effort...The methods have evolved -- better software this time, an all mail-in ballot election -- but the foundation remains the same, Paul Dunn, DSCC's national field director, told TPM in a phone interview." Scott notes that Udall's campaign supposes "Bennet's operation in key categories: 25 field offices in 2014, versus 15 in 2010; 100 field organizers versus 40; and 3,200 volunteers in the last month versus less than 1,000."

Marquette law School poll has stat tie in Governor's race, with Republican Scott Walker trending down.

At Time Politics Jay Newton-Small notes an encouraging trend, "Midterm Elections See Surge in Tough-to-Lure Candidates: Young Moms." Newton-Small notes, "On average, women enter politics four years later--at the age of 51 versus 47--than men, according for Rutgers University's Center for American Women in Politics. But not so this cycle: A remarkable number of young mothers are running for Congress."

Timothy Cama reports at The Hill that "Six organizations are teaming up to visit college campuses and encourage young people to vote in the name of environmental protection....The groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Defend Our Future campaign, are backing a Campus Consciousness Tour in eight college towns."


October 15, 2014

Polls Wrong? Hard To Say Whether or How



So we're now down to the lick-log in the midterm elections, and some observers are spinning the latest polls to predict Total Victory for The Team, and some are arguing the polls are wrong. Nate Silver comes along at FiveThirtyEight to provide an empirical take on whether and how the polls may be wrong, and I distilled his wisdom at Washington Monthly:

Nate Silver has one of those posts today at FiveThirtyEight you feel like you should memorize, since it covers a lot of the misunderstandings and arguments left in this midterm election cycle.

First he takes on this year's version of the "skewed polls" controversy of 2012, and reminds us that as it turned out the 2012 polls were generally off--but in favor of Republicans.

It's a bit of a shock to read Nate's data and realize that Senate polling averages in the last three weeks of the campaign have been off by more than 3% four times since 1990: twice showing "bias" towards Democrats (1994 and 2002) and twice towards Republicans (1998 and 2012). Bottom line:

On average since 1990, the average bias has been just 0.4 percentage points (in the direction of Republicans), and the median bias has been exactly zero.

Not much predictive value there.

How about turnout? Could the polls be missing the hidden effect of, say, the Brannock Street Project? Maybe, but they're already showing a narrowed gap between registered and likely voters, a good sign for Democrats:

[T]he pollsters, at least as a group, are not expecting the sort of turnout gap they did in 2010. That year, the average poll had Republicans doing about 6 percentage points better among likely voters than among registered voters -- a historically large difference. The average poll we've tracked this year has shown about a 3-point gap (favoring Republicans) instead -- in line with the historical average in midterm years.

And remember, the question is not which party has the stronger ground game, but whether a stronger ground game will lead to benefits that aren't reflected in the polls.

In passing, Nate also reminds us of election theories you still hear but that have been largely discredited: the Incumbent Rule (undecideds break towards challengers); the Bradley Effect (polls overestimate the vote of African-American candidates); and the Generic Ballot Tilt (the generic congressional ballot has a built-in Democratic bias).

The bottom line is that past experience doesn't tell us much about the likely accuracy or inaccuracy of polls this year. What we do know is that the landscape, particularly for the Senate, is skewed heavily in favor of the GOP, and that Democrats are fighting impressively to overcome a lot of built-in obstacles. How much they need to overcome and whether they succeed is something we won't know until November 4.


SD's Rick Weiland Starts Populist Prairie Fire -- with Song



Like what you hear and see? Here's Rick Weiland's ActBlue page.


A Realistic Look at Consequences of a GOP Senate Takeover



We're starting to see more warnings in various media about the likely consequences of Republicans winning majority control of the U.S. Senate on November 4. It's not a pretty picture, as a couple of posts TDS has noted (here and here) explain. This Baltimore Sun editorial also does a good job of laying out what it would likely mean:

...It would be a mistake to assume that a Republican-held Senate would not be able to assert its will on public policy in a meaningful way. It might not be able to pass game-changing legislation high on the GOP wish list -- a complete dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, for instance -- but it might be able to nibble at the edges or put vulnerable Democrats on the spot. In the case of Obamacare, the targets are clear -- go after the tax on medical devices, the employer mandate or other unpopular elements in the program. The strategy would be to weaken Obamacare, put it deeply in the red or make it so dysfunctional that eventually a repeal would seem like an act of euthanasia.

And it doesn't stop there. There are a number of controversial policies that have been bottled up in the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid that would suddenly come to the fore. Expect a lot of attacks on the regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and its Clean Air Act-related rules that seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and on Dodd-Frank restrictions that the Wall Street crowd really despises like executive pay disclosures and the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from certain speculative investments...

Think House investigations into the Obama administration have been endless? A GOP Senate would almost certainly join the fray and likely put 2016 Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton in its sights. Political confrontations don't require 60 votes, just a hearing room and a lot of network cameras. Benghazi and "Fast and Furious" will only be an appetizer...

...Meanwhile, you can be assured that President Obama can forget about meaningful appointments, particularly on the federal bench. Even as a political minority and despite changes in Senate rules, the GOP had succeeded in stalling judicial appointments; now, the wait will be endless -- or at least for the remainder of the term.

Republicans will also be able to make inroads in the budget -- or at least in the spending bills that take the place of an actual budget -- to shape government policy, de-funding Obama initiatives they don't like much. Legislation will also be offered to score political points (a practice both parties embrace) with an eye toward 2016. But instead of green energy initiatives or immigration reform, as the Democrats pushed, it will now be approval of the Keystone Pipeline or the rejection of curbs on NSA spying or refusing to shut down Guantanamo Bay.

It is a sobering assessment, and it would be good if swing voters would do some serious thinking about it, beyond simply making their choices based on particular candidates in individual races. Party is important, which is something that often gets obscured in the voting booth. Unfortunately, many Americans quickly dismiss party support with assertions along the lines of "I vote the candidate, not the party," as if they were boldly affirming their individuality.

In reality, however, such voters are merely affirming a shallow understanding of the consequences of political parties in the U.S. They are over-trusting in false equivalence memes about there being no difference between the parties and ignoring the reality that the majority party sets the agenda and runs the committees.

The Sun editorial and similar posts which have recently been published are good antidotes for those who get their political information from print media and the internet. But television still rules with too many voters, so it would be good if more major TV news shows would step up and show the American people why a Republican takeover of congress would further institutionalize gridlock --- and worse.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



October 22: Here Comes Over-Interpretation

One of the things I dread about every Election Night is the tendency of pundits and spinners to over-interpret the results. It could very easily happen this year, because this has every appearance of being a sui generis election, and one with virtually no predictive value for the next cycle. I went through some of the reasons this is the case at TPMCafe today:

If Democrats hang onto the Senate, it could be a sign that the election was not as "nationalized" as expected, or inversely, that a national GOTV effort succeeded in helping them overcome the usual "midterm falloff" problem. And if Republicans win Senate control, it will show their ability to take advantage of a very favorable landscape and adjust to unexpected challenges like viable independent candidacies in Kansas and South Dakota, or underwhelming campaigns like those of Thom Tillis and David Perdue.

But is any of this an omen for what will happen in the next cycle, as big elements of the punditocracy will undoubtedly try to make it? Not so likely. 2016 will feature a different electorate (younger and more diverse) and a very different landscape. In the Senate, that landscape will go from being extremely pro-Republican this year (21 Democratic seats up, 8 in states carried by Romney, and 15 GOP seats up, just one in a state carried by Obama) to being extremely pro-Democratic in 2016 (24 GOP seats up, 7 in states carried by Obama, and just 10 Democratic seats up, none in states carried by Romney). Only three of this year's Senate battlegrounds (North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa) are expected to be presidential battlegrounds (if a fourth, Georgia, becomes one, that will be very good news for Democrats).

Moreover, the issue landscape and candidate dynamics in 2016 are likely to be different. If the U.S. economy continues its slow but steady improvement, by 2016 the "economic issues" will likely focus on the quality rather than the quantity of jobs. While it's possible the sort of plague-of-frogs international environment the U.S. is dealing with now will continue or even intensify, that's hardly probable. And of course, whereas 2014 is an indirect and partial "referendum" on Barack Obama's performance as president, 2016 will be more of a "two futures" campaign dominated by presidential nominees. The likely (though hardly certain) Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is probably not going to be viewed as any sort of protege of or surrogate for Obama, thanks to her own vast public profile.

So this election matters, but not because it's necessarily going to tell us much of anything about 2016. Fortunately, that cycle begins on November 5, so maybe some gabbers will forget to tell us the outcome has already been determined.


October 17: Why "Personhood" Matters

There's been quite a bit of discussion during this midterm cycle about the "Personhood" movement and its efforts (via ballot initiatives and proposed federal and state constitutional amendments and statutes) to give zygotes the full rights of citizenship, in order to infallibly protect them from destruction via abortions, IV fertilization, or certain kinds of birth control.

But "Personhood" has become a real problem from pols who embraced that radical Cause and are now getting heat for it, including most notably 2014 Senate candidates Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis. So they're distancing themselves from it, and even trying to depict themselves as "moderates" on reproductive rights issues because they don't really share the Personhood movement's most radical tenets. But it won't go away that easily, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

In a fascinating look at the Colorado-based Personhood USA organization, Irin Carmon explains why this fring-y cause is getting so much attention this year, and why it's deplored by both GOPers and "mainstream" antichoice groups. The bottom line is that its efforts are blowing the cover of a GOP/RTL strategy to incrementally ban abortions (and eventually "abortifacient" birth control methods) by focusing on controversial late-term abortions and such deceptive practices as the increasingly popular "medical conditions" restrictions that are shutting down clinics in a host of states. The Personhood folk hate the indirect strategy, and want to hold everyone's feet to the fire to make sure they will embrace the least as well as the most popular antichoice measures.
What Personhood USA wants is culture change. Specifically, they want a culture where fertilized eggs are paramount, without exceptions, and anyone who stands in their way - including the woman carrying an embryo or fetus - is subject to the criminal code.

They aren't there yet, but they're getting closer. "Being around for six years," [Personhood USA communications director Jennifer] Mason said, "we've changed the way the country talks about abortion."

She's right. Candidates who call themselves pro-life are being called out by parts of their base for not going far enough - far enough being Personhood. Evangelical Protestants being drawn into the previously Catholic terrain of the contraception wars are working from the Personhood playbook, and growing its coalition. The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, which refused to question Personhood's unscientific claims in allowing religious owners of companies to opt out of covering contraception for their employees, was the biggest public relations coup yet for Personhood's worldview.

Even Republicans who have at one point embraced Personhood and are now denying or deflecting their stances - as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Joni Ernst have -are still operating on Personhood's terrain.

Here's the key thing to understand:

Nor is Mason bothered by the sometimes fierce battles fought among anti-abortion factions on how Personhood is spoiling everything. "It's important to note that they do agree on the goals," she said of her fellow abortion opponents. "In fact, even before we got involved, Personhood has long been considered the end game for the pro-life movement." She's right about that too.

As is the case with a lot of arguments within the GOP and the conservative movement these days, regular old antichoice pols and the Personhood folk agree on principles and goals but differ on strategy and tactics. If they could run the country, they'd run it the same way, with no abortions legal anywhere and with IUDs and Plan B contraception either banned or under a legal cloud.

So the "Personhood" debate is a useful optic for understanding the relationship of the GOP with extremist groups, and why Republican claims of "moderation" are so often exaggerated at best and plainly deceptive at worst.


October 15: Polls Wrong? Hard to Say Whether or How

So we're now down to the lick-log in the midterm elections, and some observers are spinning the latest polls to predict Total Victory for The Team, and some are arguing the polls are wrong. Nate Silver comes along at FiveThirtyEight to provide an empirical take on whether and how the polls may be wrong, and I distilled his wisdom at Washington Monthly:

Nate Silver has one of those posts today at FiveThirtyEight you feel like you should memorize, since it covers a lot of the misunderstandings and arguments left in this midterm election cycle.

First he takes on this year's version of the "skewed polls" controversy of 2012, and reminds us that as it turned out the 2012 polls were generally off--but in favor of Republicans.

It's a bit of a shock to read Nate's data and realize that Senate polling averages in the last three weeks of the campaign have been off by more than 3% four times since 1990: twice showing "bias" towards Democrats (1994 and 2002) and twice towards Republicans (1998 and 2012). Bottom line:

On average since 1990, the average bias has been just 0.4 percentage points (in the direction of Republicans), and the median bias has been exactly zero.

Not much predictive value there.

How about turnout? Could the polls be missing the hidden effect of, say, the Brannock Street Project? Maybe, but they're already showing a narrowed gap between registered and likely voters, a good sign for Democrats:

[T]he pollsters, at least as a group, are not expecting the sort of turnout gap they did in 2010. That year, the average poll had Republicans doing about 6 percentage points better among likely voters than among registered voters -- a historically large difference. The average poll we've tracked this year has shown about a 3-point gap (favoring Republicans) instead -- in line with the historical average in midterm years.

And remember, the question is not which party has the stronger ground game, but whether a stronger ground game will lead to benefits that aren't reflected in the polls.

In passing, Nate also reminds us of election theories you still hear but that have been largely discredited: the Incumbent Rule (undecideds break towards challengers); the Bradley Effect (polls overestimate the vote of African-American candidates); and the Generic Ballot Tilt (the generic congressional ballot has a built-in Democratic bias).

The bottom line is that past experience doesn't tell us much about the likely accuracy or inaccuracy of polls this year. What we do know is that the landscape, particularly for the Senate, is skewed heavily in favor of the GOP, and that Democrats are fighting impressively to overcome a lot of built-in obstacles. How much they need to overcome and whether they succeed is something we won't know until November 4.


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