Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Teacher Evaluations, Same Old Issues

While most of the rest of New Jersey was shopping and celebrating, I immersed myself in an article that shined some light on New Jersey's new teacher tenure and evaluation law. The lesson? Principals, supervisors and other district evaluators are going to have to be crystal clear, honest and consistent in their written evaluations or face the probability that cases brought against teachers will backfire on them.

Why is that important? After all, teachers have been evaluated multiple times every year for their entire careers, and those evaluations have decided whether they're rehired or earn tenure, right?

Um, well...that's complicated.

The ugly truth is that administrators have been fudging evaluations for a good long time, with the result that many effective teachers have been unfairly culled from the herd while some ineffective teachers have earned their due process rights. I personally know of three teachers who have earned sterling evaluations in their first two-and-a half years of teaching, and then were saddled with one terrifically poor evaluation at the end of their third year, resulting in their not earning tenure. In every case there was more to the story, in that the teacher had become too vocal or too involved with local association activities or, in one unfortunate case, the principal simply didn't like the person and wanted a friend to have that job.

The TEACHNJ law is supposed to remedy all of this. The new evaluation system is geared towards making sure that every teacher in every public school classroom is, at the very least, rated "effective" according to the law. The main problem with the law is that it's still in the testing stage in most districts, with a target date of September 2103 for full implementation. With hundreds of schools still working out the details, along comes the first case to be decided on the merits of a teacher's performance in the classroom (the first ever case involved off-campus teacher behavior and an excellent analysis by Jersey Jazzman can be found here).

Arbitrator David L. Gregory's decision was both well-written and concise. You have to love a jurist who cites both Felix Frankfurter and Occan's razor in their writing, and Gregory gets to the heart of the issue, rendering his decision in five pages. What he found was there there was a "stark and stunning 180 degree turn by the Principal" in the difference between their written evaluation, saying on the one hand that the teacher possessed "marginal abilities" in preparation and classroom environment, but "clear and expressive" oral and written communication. The principal goes on to say that "(T)he teacher's well-chosen vocabulary enriches the lesson and serves as a positive model." There's more, but the upshot is that Gregory recognized that the principal contradicted themselves so egregiously, that the teacher was being evaluated "arbitrarily and capriciously."

The teacher won the case and all charges were dismissed.

Is there something besides an honest evaluation going on between principal and teacher here? Without other evidence, it's difficult to say, but the inference is that this was a multilayered case. In any event, it's a warning to evaluators throughout the state that they must henceforth be honest, consistent and specific with their language if they are to prove that a teacher should be fired.

The 45 day limit on deciding cases was also a factor here as there was no actual hearing due to delays associated with Hurricane Sandy. Quick does not necessarily mean accurate. In this case the facts supported the teacher, but in the future the time limit might have a more deleterious effect and lead to a less fair decision.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Gun Conversation

Why are we still having this conversation? Why are we still debating whether we should regulate assault and military style (whatever that is) weapons and limit large purchases of ammunition? Why are we still beholden to an organization that believes that the United States Constitution guarantees an unlimited, unfettered, absolute right to a gun, despite a giant clause at the beginning of the Second Amendment that clearly refers to  militias? Do we have absolute free speech rights? Religious rights? Rights to assembly? No. These are all regulated activities. We need to regulate guns.

I've read the arguments about how a weapons ban or more regulation would not have stopped this horrific shooting. I've listened and watched as talking head after talking head drones on about how politically difficult it is for a Democratic president to pursue controls on weapons because it would be political death.

I've had conversations in person and on social media with people for whom their weapon seems to be their most cherished possession.

"If they come for my gun I'll give them the bullets first!"
"Over my dead body!"
"From my cold dead hands!"
"First it's my gun, then they'll come for my house and my family!"
"What we need is for every teacher and principal to be trained in how to use a gun and to be issued one for their classroom."

Clearly I don't understand the mania, the attachment, the fear, the anger, and the entitlement that many people have with their guns. I'm not advocating taking anyone's gun away who can't prove that they're responsible enough to carry one. I'm questioning the idea that we don't have to ask more questions, or do more background checks or limit what kind of gun people can buy and how much ammunition they can get at one time. There are responsible ways to do this. We regulate so many things in our society from marriage to driver's to pet licenses, from who can be a teacher and a police officer to how fresh the meat and dairy has to be in our food stores.

But guns? Weapons that can destroy lives? Kill children? Apparently not more than the way we regulate them now, despite the fact that the system doesn't work. When a system doesn't work and results in people's deaths, you fix it. That's what we need now.

Are there ways around these proposals? You bet. And people will find them. But the point is to put them in place and see how they work because what we have now has led to one of the bloodiest, tragic, heartbreaking years this country has seen in quite a while. Gun deaths are preventable. Let's prevent them.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Alternate Route to Undermining Teaching

It's not enough that the Christie Administration has bashed teachers as union mules and the source of New Jersey's fiscal ills. It's not enough that the governor has promoted private partnerships with public schools to avoid paying the state's fair share of education aid to school districts in need of money. It's not enough that he's advocated for merit pay based on an evaluative model that is reliant on faulty research. And it's not enough that he's attacked NJEA officials personally because of their private organization salaries.

Now the governor's administration wants to make it easier for charter schools to hire lesser qualified teachers simply, it seems, for ideological reasons. How is he doing this? By proposing that alternate route teachers who want to work in charter schools be able to earn teaching licenses with fewer requirements than those people who want public school teaching certificates. If you ever need any more evidence that the governor hasn't a clue about how to attract and train quality teachers, then here's your proof.

Let me state from the outset that I have taught the alternate route New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey (NPTNJ) program since 2003. It's a wonderful program that has trained thousands of people in New Jersey to become qualified, knowledgeable, effective teachers. It asks these prospective teachers to take hundreds of hours in pedagogy, theory, educational psychology, literacy and mathematics instruction, and classroom management techniques. They need to have at least 30 hours of college credit in their chosen discipline. Once teachers are hired by a school (either public or private) they need to be observed and are required to have a mentor teacher from their school's staff. All of these things are done to ensure, as best we can, that those new teachers have the practical and theoretical skills that will allow them to succeed in their new field. Besides, the state says they have to do this.

But not, apparently, if you want to teach in a charter school.

For reasons I can only assume are arbitrary, unthinking and ideological, the new state rules for alternate route charter school teachers are different. From the article:

Under the proposal, the charter schools would no longer need to meet the existing requirements that their alternate route teachers have at least 30 hours of credits in their content area, nor would they need to have a set number of hours of classroom training before they are hired and once they are hired. They would also not be required to have a mentor teacher as rookie teachers do in the public schools.

This is being done because of the word most associated with charter schools. This word is supposed to be able to solve the problems that public schools have, like the fact that New Jersey's public schools are among the nation's best, or that we have among the highest SAT and Advanced Placement Test scores in the country, or that we have the best trained teachers in the country thanks to an organization whose first objective in to ensure that only the most highly qualified teachers are in the classroom, or that we are the envy of both teachers and parents in other states.

The word is supposed to signal to the public that the stodgy old public schools are stuck in the past and that throwing more money at them would only be a waste of taxpayer resources. The word is supposed to bring to mind the most effective trait we need in education today.

That word is flexibility.

Charter schools should have the flexibility to hire people who are underprepared for classroom teaching.

They should have the flexibility to hire people who have less than the requisite knowledge, 30 credits in an academic discipline, that most every college in the country believes is the bare minimum a graduate should have for a 4-year degree.

They should have the flexibility to teach without the help and guidance of a mentor teacher who can help them navigate the intricacies of the profession in a supportive, nonevaluative manner.

They should have the flexibility to hire people who have fewer hours in the classroom, fewer classroom experiences upon which to draw, and fewer student contact hours either teaching or observing in a classroom with an effective teacher.

This is stunning, not just for its outright ignorance of what constitutes effective teacher training, but what it will mean for the quality of charter school teachers in the future. And yet, the Christie Administration believes that this will ensure their quality. Perhaps that's why they announced this plan with as little fanfare as possible and buried the change deep within the State's Professional Licensure Code. Here's the link. Have fun.

This change is bad enough, but when you pair it with another Christie goody on education, it makes even less sense. The state announced on Friday that it will partner with the Princeton-based Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Foundation to recruit smarty-pants college students in math and science to teach in New Jersey's worst performing high schools.  These prospective public school teachers will luckily be able to shadow mentor teachers and will earn Master's Degrees after they're finished with the program.

Why can't the alternate route charter school teachers get the same advantages? Must have something to do with flexibility. Maybe they should hire personal trainers and physical therapists to address that.

I've trained hundreds of teachers over the course of my career are mentored scores of others. Teaching is a difficult job and one that needs to be done right. The new charter school rules are an insult to educators and will create a two-tiered system of teachers within the schools and the state. The Christie Administration is again applying ideology in place of thought. It's a mistake they've made time and time again.

Guess they don't learn too good.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cliff Notes

When I was growing up, I had a good friend named Cliff. He was smart and funny, OK, corny, and a bit nerdy, but he had a good heart and I'm sure he's doing wonderful things with his life.

Meanwhile, his name is being dragged through the mud.

This Fiscal Cliff business is terrible for anyone named Cliff and it's even worse that it's hogging the headlines around the holidays with no end in sight. The media is absolutely breathless at the thought that on January 1...very little will happen. Yes, tax rates will go up and federal spending will go down, but it will take a few weeks or months for the real effect to take hold. Of course, the real impact will be on the stock market and on business spending because if there's no deal then they'll have to make serious decisions that could tilt us back into recession.

In the meantime, the political posturing is so bad a team of chiropractors is on 24-hour call on Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe that stretch that has all of the homeless people sleeping under scaffolding. The president and John Boehner could do worse than to meet there just to remind themselves of what effects their actions have on the country.

What's obvious is that the Republican Party has learned very little from last month's election. It's clear that the public will blame the GOP if there is no deal because, unlike the far right, most Americans have a sense of fairness that says that wealthy people need to pay more and some social programs need to be cut because that's what we do when we have a problem in this country. We compromise. We talk to each other. We each contribute what we can to solve the issue.

The Republican establishment doesn't understand this and it's in President Obama's best interest to remind people on a daily basis that the failure will fall squarely on one political party. Grover Norquist's notorious no-tax pledge has always been a bad idea, and its effects on our system have resulted in a government that teeters between not being able to pay its bills and doing just enough with what it has to mess things up. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, then set us on a fiscal course that ensured a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Elections have consequences and fortunately, this year's results shifted the debate away from obstructionism and towards practical solutions. Unfortunately, political change take time. The Democrats didn't realize how much they had lost the message after 1984 and it took them at least 8 years to regroup and find the Clintonian third way. The Supreme Court robbed the country of a slow recovery from the excesses of the Gingrich revolution in 2000, and the hardened right was able to solidify its gains in 2010.

It could take until 2016 or even 2018 for the left to realize what this past election promised. Marriage equality, a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, a fairer tax code, universal health care and biting financial regulation will get pushed this term in the Congress, but real progress will be slow. The last clawing cuts of the Republican conservatives will draw blood for a while longer, to the detriment of society at large. Perhaps the next president, who will be a Democrat, can push these things over the finish line. History will remember and celebrate Barack Obama for setting the table.

So as another week dawns and we wonder what new twists the political debate will take, keep in mind that we are seeing the end of an era. It was an era of excess and stubbornness, with some necessary reforms, but ultimately as much a failed experiment of the right as the end of the 1970s was for the left. The fiscal cliff is but a symptom. The GOP will lose more than they gain because they have to if we are to move forward. My hope is with the future.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Walk, Cory, Walk!

Let the political salivating begin. The prospect of a Cory Booker-Chris Christie throw-down has the twitterverse all atwitter and the the national press sharpening its knives and pens. All that's left is for both candidates to announce their intentions and we'll have a money-soaked affair that will make Linda McMahon's spending for the Connecticut Senate race look like a sale at Woolworth's. Or K-Mart, or S. Klein's. Or whatever the zeitgeist will give us.

If I'm Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and I am decidedly not, I'm going to think long and hard about whether I'm entering this race. He's given a deadline of mid-December for his decision, as has Governor Christie, and I think he should take all the time he needs.

This is a tricky decision for Booker. He has a national reputation, is an excellent speaker, uses the latest technology, is well educated and gained stature because of his work trying and partially succeeding in rebuilding Newark into an entertainment, sports and business destination. He's made some missteps along the way, but for the most part, he's done all he can do on the job.

And then there's education. If you gave me a choice of issues that could trip up a candidate, education would not be first, but this is one of Booker's big problem for next year. For one, he entered into an agreement with Christie to accept $100 million from Facebook's Marc Zuckerberg to finance the Newark public schools. Then he hired Cami Anderson to run the schools and the residents didn't take too kindly to her reformy policies which included closing schools and implementing private sector methods on her employees. And just last week, fueled by Facebook's money, the Newark teachers adopted a contract that incorporates merit pay, test-based teacher evaluations, and almost total administrative control of the hiring and firing process.

Good for Newark. Good for Booker. Bad for education, and potentially bad for a Booker statewide campaign.


Because Booker's education agenda, like Christie's and even president Obama's, is based on misguided and counterproductive policies that sound like they will result in better teaching and learning, but will create a competitive environment that is poison to collegiality and sharing, the cornerstones of effective schools. Add in the fact that no other school district in the state would be able to do this under constrained budgets and state aid reductions, and you have a situation that is unique to Newark and that virtually no other district in New Jersey will want to emulate. In short, he's associated with the very policies that most teachers in state object to, and teachers are a vital Democratic voting bloc. This is his problem. Without the enthusiastic support of the teachers, Booker will most likely lose. It's not that teachers will vote for Christie; they just might not vote for Booker.

Booker needs the teachers who voted for Christie in Ocean, Monmouth and Morris Counties. He needs the teachers who were lukewarm about Jon Corzine in 2009 to come out in force for him in 2013. He needs more of the public workers in Mercer, Middlesex, and southern Somerset. And he needs to make sure that Camden, home of George Norcross, and Essex, home of Joseph DiVincenzo, vote for him in great numbers despite what what will be enormous pressure from both men and political machines to protect what they've won under Governor Christie. And quite honestly, with all of the above educational baggage, I think this will be a great challenge.

What the Democratic Party needs next year is a candidate who understands that private money and testing are not the answers to what ails education. In fact, New Jersey ranks very high nationally in reading, math, SAT and Advanced Placement scores. Most of the suburban areas of the state have fine schools that don't need the kind of overhaul that Christie and the far right have been peddling for the past 10 years. And some urban schools are just as good, turning out high-achieving students that go on to terrific colleges or vocational programs. Better to focus on alleviating poverty and raising expectations in subpar schools than overhauling the entire system.

Cory Booker might yet be able to unite the Democrats behind him in 2013 and win the election. After all, Christie will now need to re-prioritize his agenda because, in the wake of Sandy, tax cuts and job growth will be very difficult to achieve. Plus, there might be enough far right Republicans in New Jersey who will not support the governor because of his perceived role in Mitt Romney's defeat. His near 60% approval ratings will also come down. In short, Chris Christie is beatable, and I think that Cory Booker can be the candidate that defeats him. My concern is that he'll need to be clearer about his education agenda if he wants the wholehearted support of New Jersey's public school teachers.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Election Is Over

You know it's bad when the list of reasons for your loss keeps growing. Mitt Romney is walking off the national stage with his head held high, but with an entire party rattling behind him like cans attached to a newlywed's bumper. The final list, as I see it, is thus:

1. Mitt was a lousy candidate
2. Obama's gave gifts to his voting blocs
3. Obama won the urban vote
4. Obama suppressed voting by making sure that Republicans didn't show up in higher numbers
5. Romney was not specific enough during the campaign
6. African-Americans showed up to vote in Maine
7. Not enough Christians voted for Mitt

Yeah, that about covers it, and the Mitt purge has already begun. By the first of the year he will be airbrushed out of the collective GOP memory, akin to a disgraced apparatchik from the old Soviet Union (they really should be given credit for anticipating Photoshop). In truth, he ran a bad campaign right from the beginning, allowing Obama to define him before he could define himself and making critical errors that stalled his progress. Only the first debate helped him, but not enough. Mitt, we hardly knew ya, but evidently that's the way we want it.

So now to govern. President Obama is wisely using his momentum to make sure that the GOP-run House understands that they will need to find new revenue in addition to spending cuts to avoid not only the fiscal difficulties we face, but their own irrelevance. The same can be said for immigration reform, which will also happen this year, and a reform of the tax code, which I predict will not include a cut or cap to the home mortgage deduction. We also have a new international crisis in the Middle East that threatens to grow and include other countries and terrorist groups.

Welcome to your second term, Mr. President.

In the end, I believe that the election of 2012 will be remembered as the one that ended the ascension of the conservatives in American political life. For thirty years the GOP controlled the message that focused on trickle down economics, an irresponsibly interventionist foreign policy and an anti-government creed that was meant to counteract, and ultimately destroy, the welfare state programs enacted from the 1930s to the 1960s. In part, they succeeded, but they also planted the seeds for the economic blowup and the massive redistribution of income from the middle class to the wealthy. It's now time to begin winding down that inequality and I think that's ultimately what the American people voted for on November 6.

We're finding out, after all, that starving government and blaming it for our ills can be destructive. It's led to slower responses to societal problems and unfairly labeling public employees as lazy, ineffective and wasteful. Government does have a role to play in guaranteeing that Americans who need programs and qualify for them actually get them. The free market works rather well in the United States, but the market can't cure all of our ills. We need public systems where the private sector can't, or won't, step in.

It's been a fun 18 months covering the political drama, but I'm closing the books on this election. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and let's all try to get along, shall we?

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wipeout! The GOP Wave Crashes.

It's funny how elections make clear what is already in plain sight. The decline of the Republican Party and the discrediting of its radical right wing has been evident for the past 3 to 4 years. Instead of following an agenda, they've focused on obstruction. When they deigned to speak about policy, it was usually in the negative: anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, anti-tax for millionaires and anti-immigrant. It's no wonder that women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans were anti-GOP.

It's also appropriate that the final stake in the right's collective heart came in the form of a nasty, windy, watery, power-sapping weather event called Sandy. I've been warning about the conservative wave crashing on the beach for most of the year, including after Hurricane Isaac in August.

It is ever thus. And now comes the figurative cleanup. From Sean Hannity's epiphany on immigration, to Bill Kristol's rebirth on taxes (and the answer is no, raising taxes on the wealthy will not kill anyone), to the rejection of the religious right's message of exclusion and false piety, this election will very quickly result in the Republican's changing their tune in order to avoid complete irrelevancy.

Oh yes, there will still be Tea Partiers and other conservatives in Congress, but they will be marginalized and will vote against anything that smacks of compromise or common sense. Others, though, will see the light. Lindsay Graham has already shown his grace by working with New York's Charles Schumer on an immigration bill that could come in the lame duck session. There's even talk that the environment and climate change could enable this Congress, or the next one, to come to grips with what's been obvious to the rest of us for over a decade. Along with tax reform, that could make these next seven weeks the most productive of this eminently forgettable Congressional session.

And it's all because of an election that highlighted a get-out-the-vote machine that will become an instant classic in the next edition of Political Science textbooks across the nation. President Obama's team was able to turn a bad economy and a seemingly insurmountable deficit of enthusiasm into a convincing win, in large part because the Romney campaign aligned itself with the anti-math crowd and convinced itself that Obama couldn't win.

But this was an election about ideas, and Obama won that battle as well. Most voters agreed with the president on taxes, marriage equality, women's reproductive rights, immigration and investing in education and research. Medicare, which was supposed to be the GOP's winning issue, was a dud. Paul Ryan was forced early on to abandon both this issue and his meat cleaver budget, leaving him with little to say except to parrot Romney's ultimately failed ideas. That the election was close is a testament to how divided the country is, but the ever-decreasing white vote that went for Romney was no match for the rainbow coalition that came out for the president.

Is it an enduring coalition for Democrats? It will be if the Republicans don't shed some of their antiquated ideas. I expect we'll see a lot more of Marco Rubio over the next two years and a little more of Chris Christie, who raised his profile as someone willing to work with the other party to get things done during the devastation caused by Sandy and Obama's visit to New Jersey. (Memo to the GOP: Sandy meant very little to your electoral loss. Did women and Latinos decide to vote Obama after a hurricane, or after your minions savaged themselves by equating rape with God's plan?) We might even see some moderates peeking over the curtain from time to time.

The main lesson we all need to take from the election is that the people want the government to help solve our problems. They don't want government completely out of the way, but would rather that it do what it's supposed to do: keep us safe, keep us working, and taking care that the safety net catches those who need it. We'll take care of the rest. The Democrats can't get too full of themselves and their message because this was not a mandate election. It was a reaffirmation election that told Barack Obama to complete the job he started in 2009 and to work with the other side to fix the system. The GOP will obstruct and filibuster at its peril. They need to work with the president on all issues and not wait until the next election to see if they can outflank him. That didn't work for the past two years and it won't work in the future.

I am optimistic for the first time in a while. It might be misplaced, or I might be more naive than the next guy, but I really think we'll get the government unplugged and start to see some real progress.

The wave has crashed. Now let's hope the tide has turned.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What We Know: The Calm After the Election

Oh, that 20/20 hindsight. Now that the election's over, didn't we just know it was going to end the way it did? Wasn't it painfully obvious that President Obama was going to be reelected and win every swing state by recount-resistant margins? Elizabeth Warren? Claire McCaskill? Heidi Heitkamp? Marriage equality?

Of course not. That's the fun of a campaign. But the polls were right and the right was very wrong. And the sweetness of the Democrats' victories will stay with progressives until the reality of the fiscal cliff descends on the country.

What did we learn from this election? So many lessons.

Obama's Osawatomie speech in December, 2011 set the tone for his campaign. He staked himself out as a true Progressive and claimed the middle class for his own. Romney, meanwhile, was becoming "seriously conservative" while trying to outflank those political dynamos in the GOP nomination field.

Defining your opponent before they define themselves is an essential component of a victory. Obama was able to define Romney as a job-busting, China-outsourcing plutocrat while Mitt was still aglow from his primary victories. The lead that Obama built in the summer polls became a crucial buffer for him come the fall.

The Citizen's United decision was a bad one, but it didn't alter the race in ways that Democrats feared. As a matter of fact, the two parties raised about the same amount of money, but the Obama campaign was more frugal and strategic about how they spent it. Campaign finance laws still need to be amended and adjusted because the effect of all the money was just as corrupting and polluting as ever, but the spending gap never materialized.

Conventions still matter. The Democrats had a terrific convention that highlighted the right message and leveraged the speaking talent that resides in the party. It also helps to have a former President at your disposal who is far more popular now that he was when he left office. The Republicans, by contrast, had a terrible convention that didn't highlight the candidate and was remembered more for an empty chair and Paul Ryan's untruths than full-throated rhetoric.

Debates still matter. There was considerable chatter before the debates about how they don't move the polls much. President Obama's Denver performance proved that wrong as Mitt Romney got a nice bump out of the first debate, simply for showing up and being coherent. The great fallacy about the bump, though, was that it morphed into momentum. It did not. Romney's bounce lasted approximately 3 days, then settled down with him still behind the president in both national and swing state level polls. The lead that Obama built with his summer advertising held even though Romney showed that he wasn't quite the monster the Obama campaign asserted he was.

Debates still matter. Obama's performance in the second and third debates not only stopped any movement to Romney, but actually provided the president with a bounce of his own. Obama won both debates, and he exposed Romney for having few ideas, few details and a woefully inadequate grasp of foreign policy. Romney also lost his cool, which had to turn off some voters who were giving him a second look.

Unscripted comments can derail a campaign. Romney's 47% comment and the unconscionably disgraceful Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are all you need to know.

The polls were right. I'll repeat that. The polls were right. In fact, if you looked at the polls in July, you would see that it would take a mammoth effort by the Romney campaign just to make up the margin to achieve a tied race. Even Mitt's debate bounce only brought him within one percent of the president in the poll aggregator's computations. The right wing math deniers even came up with anti-math to show that Romney was going to win 315+ electoral votes. Meanwhile, real math people at fivethirtyeight, Pollster, Votamatic, Princeton Election Consortium, PPP, IBD and yours truly were analyzing and conducting polls that reflected exactly where the race was going, who would win, and by how much. Rasmussen and Gallup took the biggest lumps and will have two years to repair their reputations.

The campaign of ideas, promised by the right when Romney selected Paul Ryan to be his running mate, didn't materialize. There was some initial talk about Medicare and the Ryan budget, but when both proposals turned out to be unpopular they disappeared from the discussion on a national level. In the same way, Barack Obama did not run a high-minded campaign of ideas as much as undertaking a slog that dragged Romney through the mud and segmented the country into gender, ethnic and racial groups. Obama won those groups. By a lot. That was the difference.

There was/is a gender gap. And a Latino gap. And an African-American gap. And all three went in Obama's favor. Romney was left with a declining demographic of older white men and younger people without college degrees. If you wanted to chart the fall of a political party, like the Federalists or the Whigs, you couldn't start with a more disastrous demographic time bomb. The Republican Party had better reorient itself quickly, though I doubt they can do it in time for 2016. In fact, some of the talk today is that Romney was not conservative enough to win. Evidently the GOP only wants to win 140 electoral votes next time around.

There are more lessons, but they are subjects for another day. It's time to celebrate the victories and look forward to the next four years.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The State of the Race: Final Predictions

And on the Sunday before the election, here I am at a warming and recharging station in the courthouse of my town, working among the first responders and FEMA agents, and wondering when I'm going to get my power, and more important, my heat, back.

Some people have it much worse, so I'll shut my yap and stick to what I know 100%: My opinion.

The national media has been making a great deal of noise about how close this election is and how anything can happen on Tuesday. They've also been talking up the Ohio ballots that won't be counted until after Tuesday, which could mean that we won't know who will be our next president until the turkey hits the table.

Hogwash. Balderdash. Bunk. Hokum. And other bygone phrases implying that someone doesn't know what they're talking about. We'll know early Wednesday morning and unless there is massive voter fraud or the polls have been completely wrong since, say, June, then President Obama will be reelected.

You can look at any reputable site from pollster to RealClearPolitics to fivethirtyeight to Princeton Election Consortium to Votamatic and anybody to the left of (which is really everybody) and see that the overwhelming majority of polls have the president ahead. I know that Republicans are holding out for an opposite result based on voter turnout and a not-so-subtle liberal bias in the media. Democrats being Democrats, they are expecting something terrible to happen just so they can worry for one more day, such as fraud, voting machine plots from that Romney boy, the power of the right-wing media to convince people who will not benefit from a GOP win to vote against their interests, or the latest news from Uzbekistan or Mongolia to convince voters that Mitt Romney will solve all of our problems.

I just don't see it happening.

This campaign has had its share of twists and turns from the GOP primaries to the conventions, debates and billions spent on ads and attacks, but it has had a consistent narrative: President Obama has been ahead in the polls since July. Romney made a great run after the Denver debate in October and got very close, but never undid Obama's electoral majority. In fact, Romney's polling rose around October 5 and stayed elevated for a week before it began to recede. All of the talk about Mitt-mentum and the Romney surge were just words from the 24-hour commentariat. Statistically, it didn't materialize.

What did materialize was a right wing assault on science and math that questioned polls, methodology and, true to form, scathing attacks on pollsters themselves (the left was also guilty of this, with Scott Rasmussen their target). It was ugly and wrong, but I'm sure it will continue as long as there are elections. Remember reading about how low the US ranks in science and math scores? This was the result.

Obama will win this election with over 300 electoral votes and the Democrats will hold the Senate. Republicans will hold the House and will probably add two Governors to their ranks. If I have power on Tuesday, I will update. Otherwise, please remember to vote.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Race Race

It doesn't come as a complete surprise, but this article from Yahoo! News about racial attitudes is a shameful comment about our so-called post-racial attitudes. Turns out they aren't very post-anything.

Antebellum would be more accurate.

From the article:

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

And there's more. This week, Colin Powell officially endorsed Barack Obama for president with eloquence and reason. That, evidently, was not enough for former Bush Chief of Staff, New Hampshire Governor and present Romney staffer John Sununu. His take was that Powell endorsed Obama because he's black. So is Powell. In the small mind of a zealot, that makes sense. Not only is this offensive from a racial point-of-view, it is meant to reduce Colin Powell, a great military leader and public servant who actually enunciated a military doctrine that all presidents should honor, to someone who can't think for himself and must endorse Obama for emotional reasons. He's questioning Powell's intelligence. Bad move.

The strategy of dividing the country by race has been a Republican staple since Richard Nixon used the Southern Strategy in his 1968 and 1972 campaigns. Ronald Reagan endorsed state's rights very early in his 1980 campaign, and Sununu's boss George H.W. Bush famously made Willie Horton the face of black males in 1988. Racism was muted, for the most part, in the election of 2008 (many Democrats feared a Bradley Effect where people say they'll vote for a black candidate in a poll, but don't vote for them in the actual election) as the economy and a near-Depression pushed it to the background. But racism is alive and well in 2012.

Fortunately, I believe, this might be the last national election where the Republican Party's coalition of older southern and western white voters influences its policy choices. The country is changing demographically and the GOP had better nurture the few African-Americans in its ranks for 2014 and 2016 if it wants to remain competitive. I also expect Latinos like Marco Rubio to be the face of the party at the expense of Paul Ryan. Even young people might find a GOP message more reassuring if it wasn't so anti-black, brown and gay.

Despite these attitudes, it does look like the United States is about to reelect its first African-American president, and that means something. Obama doesn't betray a great deal of passion in his non-campaign face, but he desperately wants to win this election for symbolic and political reasons. A one-term presidency would embolden the racists to say that the US tried an African-American president and he failed. Two terms allows Obama to be an even more powerful symbol and leader, as he will now be president when the economy recovers, and the health care, Dodd-Frank and tax reform laws take hold.

In short, he will leave a legacy worthy of a great president.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Polling Report: October 23, 2012

The debates are done, the swing states remain swingy, and the money is flowing. Must be the last two weeks of the campaign. And true to the divided nature of the country, there are two narratives for the final push.

The first says that Mitt Romney has the momentum because of his first debate performance and the new perception, pushed very hard by his campaign, that Romney is really a moderate, not the scary conservative that Obama said he was in the summer. In many ways, Mitt has won his argument because, depending upon the poll, he has become more likable and he's improved his standing with women. Romney's national poll numbers are up and he's made inroads into states that were solidly behind the president, such as Florida and North Carolina.

The second says that President Obama took it on the chin in the first debate, but came roaring back in the last two and, though he's lost the big lead he had at the end of September, still leads in the states he needs to be reelected. Is this the controlling story? Or is there another, less-widely reported subplot?

The media seems consumed with momentum and polling figures, and you can get your fill at fivethirtyeight, Pollster, RCP,  Red State, or TalkingPointsMemo and they will tell you the same story: Obama has the lead, by varying degrees, but it's going to be a very close election. In fact, we could be looking at a 2000 scenario, where Obama wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote. That's the system we have. Go figure.

At the two-week mark, Obama has the inside track on the election. Whatever movement towards Romney was evident after the first debate has slowed, the president's ground game is resulting in leads in Ohio (though shrinking) and Iowa where early voting has been taking place. If Obama can win those two states and Nevada, where he has never been behind, then he'll win the election. Romney has all-but taken up residence in Ohio for a late personal and advertising push, so it's not conclusive that Obama will shut the door until election day.

All of this is giving partisans on both sides the jitters and short finger nails. I don't see an October surprise, but I guess that's why they call it, well, a surprise. The real surprise would be one of the candidates pulling away at the last minute. With the country so divided though, I would suggest that you buy sustenance for what will surely be a long night on November 6-7.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foreign Affairs

Remember when foreign affairs wasn't supposed to be a major part of the presidential campaign? It was supposed to be about jobs, jobs and jobs, but now that the world has intruded on our parochial election, the third debate will play a major role in the last two weeks of this contest.

This does not bode well for Mitt Romney, and it plays into one of Obama's strengths.

Romney's first problem is with Libya. He's been wrong about what actually happened since the attack on September 11, and made an error of both fact and tact in last week's debate. And now that internal documents show that the president was right about the Benghazi attacks, Mitt will need to find another avenue to question Obama's leadership.

He won't find that with Iran, due to the latest reports that show the Iranians interested in having face-to-face discussions with the United States about their nuclear program. Romney has been critical about the way that Obama has been handling the Iran issue, but reaching out for talks, even if they take place after the election, shows that the economic sanctions are having a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. On the campaign trail, Romney has been talking about military strikes on Iran as a way of protecting Israel. Now, however, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees that sanctions are an effective policy.

Romney has also boxed himself in on Afghanistan. According to this story in the LA Times, his policy is much like the President's.

In the 16 months that he has been running for president, the thrust of Mitt Romney's policy toward Afghanistan has been this: He would hew to President Obama's timeline to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2014, but he would part ways with the president by giving greater deference to the judgment of military commanders.

Beyond that, Romney has revealed little about what his guiding principles would be for committing U.S. troops in conflicts around the world or what elements have shaped his thinking about Afghanistan — subjects likely to be broached in Monday's foreign policy debate.

Excuse me for being naive, but don't we need a sense of Romney's worldview? Would he keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan if he already was president? And how much deference would he give to the military commanders? I thought that our Constitution guaranteed civilian control of the military. Ultimately, the president is the Commander-In-Chief. President Obama has made those tough decisions. It looks like Mitt is ready to...defer.

But the above policy represents a shift from previous Romney statements on Afghanistan, so it's difficult to tell exactly where he stands.

Obama's foreign policy has been pragmatic, and at times he has angered the left by keeping some of the Bush security laws and not closing Guantanamo Bay. But the killing of Osama bin Laden and treaties with Russia on weapons and Colombia, Panama and South Korea on trade prove that he is a president who has his eyes on the future and a keen sense of how the United States will succeed in a truly global environment. He needs to hammer these points home and expose Mitt Romney as the foreign policy rookie that he is.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Obama Resurge Starts Now

Ignore the national polls from now on. Ignore them. Even the Gallup poll that has Mitt leading by 7 points. You heard me. The only real action is in the swing states that will decide this election.

There were some very good polls for the president over the past two days, and you need to keep one thing in mind when you read them: they were mostly taken before Tuesday's debate. The Romney Bounce, which ended last week according to this sage, has given way to the Obama Resurge, which should improve after his debate performance.



And with the president holding a lead in Ohio, he's now ahead in enough states to claim an electoral victory. As I have said before, this will be a very close election down to November 6 and Mitt Romney will need an event or a stellar run of ads and circumstances in order to win.

The final debate on Monday is on foreign affairs, and let's face facts; foreign affairs ain't where it's at this election. It won't matter how many times Mitt mentions Benghazi or Tripoli or Bibi, fewer people will be watching, and fewer still will know a lot about what he's talking about. Obama can pretty much stick with "Osama bin Laden is dead" for about 85 minutes, then give a closing that mentions the 47% and GM being rescued.

OK, it won't be that easy, but I think the debate danger is past, unless Mitt decides that he wants to get aggressive, but since that didn't work out well on Tuesday, I don't think he'll try it.

We've come to the frenetic last weeks of a campaign that's gone on far too long, but this what political junkies like us live for, so get your comfy sneakers on and line up your binders full of women for the stretch run. And stop looking at that Gallup poll. Yes, I'm talking to you.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Polling Report: October 16, 2012

With three weeks to go before the election, and with all political eyes on the debate at Hofstra this evening, it's time to take a look at the latest polling and to establish some baselines for the poll-a-rama that will ensue in the coming days.

The narrative since the first debate has been the Romney Rebound; the lift he's received in the polls since his performance at the first debate in Denver, and the negative reaction President Obama received after his less spirited effort. Some news outlets are already proclaiming that Romney has momentum and that it's only a matter of time before he overtakes the president in the swing state polls.

My take is different. Let's look.

The Real Clear Politics Index shows Romney with a 0.4 point lead on Obama in national head-to-head polls. Huffington Post/Pollster has Romney's lead at 0.2.Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight has Obama ahead by 0.6. None of these three pollsters, or any that I've seen, show Romney ahead in the Electoral College. The Politico Swing State poll showed Obama with a one point lead while other swing state polls show Romney with a lead. New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and Ohio are said to be trending towards Mitt, which could set up a scenario where he takes the electoral lead with a good debate.

And yet, every trend line on these sites shows Romney's lead or bounce fading as of this past weekend. A deeper look at the RCP polls tells a different story than what the general media is reporting. For example, the Gallup poll with Romney +4 is looking like an outlier. If we take that poll out, then Obama leads. If we take out Obama's ABC/WaPo lead, the race is essentially tied.

In Ohio, where Romney is supposedly trending, I see no evidence in the RCP graph.

Florida is closer than we're hearing because, again, we have a clear outlier, the TBT/Herald +7 poll giving Mitt a healthy bounce. Florida is trending red, but I'll need to see another poll with healthy Romney numbers before I call it.

Colorado's status is currently being influenced by an ARG poll taken right after the Denver debate, when Mitt had a great weekend of polling. Take that outlier out and Obama has a very slight lead.

There is a trend towards Romney in Virginia, and that has to concern the president because Virginia allows Romney a path to 270 without Ohio. Likewise, North Carolina seems to be in Romney's camp, though a Gravis Marketing +9 poll seems to be an outlier there.

I am not suggesting that we ignore polls that don't conform to the narrative, but that any poll that uses data from right after the first debate is going to inflate Romney's numbers. He's certainly closed the gap from where he was before Denver and he hasn't made any statements like the 47% comment that got him into trouble in September.

But the evidence strongly suggests that Romney's bounce is over. The good news for Mitt's campaign is that he is now poised to overtake Obama if he runs an effective campaign from now on. The good news for Obama is that despite a terrible debate performance, he's not only leading the electoral college tally, he never lost his lead.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Romney's Bounce...

is over. And I bet you didn't even notice it.

Better yet, you probably thought that it started the day or two after the Denver Debacle on October 3. Nope. It actually began on September 26th, was accelerated, and probably prolonged, by the debate, and is now winding down, approximately two weeks later. It was a long bump by historical standards and was immediately preceded by Obama's long convention bump.

The numbers? Obama was leading by about 50-42% when Romney's bump began, and it's ending with Mitt behind by 48-46%, which represents about a 3.5% improvement. That's an impressive achievement for Mitt, given that he was all but written off by the national media and some influential people in his party. I don't know why. This race was always going to be close and gaffes and debate horrors were not going to change that dynamic.

As for the electoral college, Mitt has again made gains by taking a lead in North Carolina, but that's about it. Recent polls have shown him leading in Florida, Colorado and New Hampshire, but he'll need a more sustained run of polls with him ahead to convince me that he's got a solid margin. In addition, the electoral math is more difficult for Romney than the president. Even if he wins Ohio, Florida and Virginia, he'll still need to win one of New Hampshire, Colorado or Iowa. None of those states is even remotely a given for him, with Ohio being the most difficult due to Mitt's opposition to the auto bailout.

This brings us to Tuesday's debate. It's not possible for Mitt to do any better than he was perceived in Denver, mainly because he's likely to get serious opposition from Obama. The best he can hope for is a small victory, but even that would be a loss because Obama's performance will probably enthuse the Democrats to the point where the polls begin to rebound, much as they did towards Mitt after the first debate. If Obama is the clear winner, then his numbers should recover more substantially. Where will they land? If that scenario does indeed occur, I could see Obama ahead by 1.5-2.5% by next Sunday.

Speculative? You bet. But I can see it happening.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Polling Report: October 9, 2012

Tell me that you saw this coming.


With four weeks to go before the election, we seem to have the race we thought we'd have: close, hard-fought, and partisan. It's how we landed here that's most interesting. Mitt Romney received a negative bounce out of the GOP convention and his 47% comments further eroded his support. Then came last week's debate in Denver and the president's implosion, which has led to a surge in Republican enthusiasm that's brought us to today. The improving unemployment rate is also exerting its influence, but so far it's difficult to gauge just how much it's affecting the race.

It's likely that we are still in a volatile polling episode and it will take a few more days to determine the extent of Romney's rebound and Obama's reaction to it. Here's what we know at this point.

According to the latest aggregate polling from Real Clear Politics, Mitt Romney leads president Obama by 0.7%. The bulk of this advantage comes form polling over the last few days, most notably from the Pew survey showing Romney with a four point lead and Gallup's switch from a Registered to a Likely Voter model. Curiously, the Rasmussen Tracking Poll has the race even at 48% and Gallup and ABC show Obama's approval ratings as 54% to 43% and 55%-44%, respectively. Usually, those are signs that the candidate is doing well, but this is 2012: we do things different here.

There are significant changes in the electoral map as a result of the Romney spike. Colorado and Virginia are now rated as tossups and Pennsylvania has narrowed to a three point lead for Obama. Ohio, the big state that Romney must have to win, is closer, though a new CNN poll gives Obama a four point lead with a D+2 sample.

Other odd things are happening with the numbers. Despite the Romney Romp, the Congressional ballot shows Democrats with a one point lead, and Democratic Senatorial candidates in Connecticut (Murphy), Massachusetts (Warren), Missouri (McCaskill), Virginia (Kaine) and North Dakota (Heitkamp) holding on to leads or running close races. Down ballot contests, it seems, have not reaped the debate benefits.

The question remains as to what to make of this swing. Most of the polls in the field now include a super two days of Romney spike last Thursday and Friday. After Sunday, both Gallup and Rasmussen find a regression in Mitt's numbers and a small rebound for the president which could be due to the lower unemployment rate (this is not definite by any means). If this represents a true resetting of the race, then Romney is in a great position to use the second and third debates to close the deal. My sense is that it will take until the weekend, or next Monday, to see where the race is heading.

Until then...

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Panic! At The Campaign (Part Deux)

Hey kids, remember in June when the Obama campaign was supposedly panicking? I sure do. That's why I wrote about it.

Well here we are again at a crisis point in the race. The debate went very badly for the president. He seemed uninterested, unengaged, unfocused, blah, blah, blah. In fact, he was all of those things. But to think that this race is over or that the debate performance means that he's going to lose is hogwash. Bunk. Horse puckey. Wrong.

Obama was losing some steam in state and national polls right before the debate as his convention bounce and Mitt's 47% comments propelled him to an unsustainable lead. He's lost even more steam over the weekend as polls that generally have a Republican lean (Gravis, Rasmussen and Claris Research) show him losing anywhere from 3-5 points off his lofty perch. Don't get me wrong: I'm not dismissing those polls as unreliable or anti-Obama by choice. They could be the vanguard of a larger shift evidenced by more polls we'll be sure to see this week. It's just that these are the early polls and a fuller picture is sure to emerge after PPP, NBC/WSJ, CBS/Quinnipiac and ABC/WaPo weigh in. Those polls will also include any effects of the positive unemployment rate from Friday and Obama ads over the weekend that highlighted Romney's, shall we say, evolution, on the issues.

Far be it from me to get in the way of a full-scale Democratic screaming, sweating freakout, as I enjoy irrationality as much as the next person (and if the next person is Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum, then it's a gold star day as far as I'm concerned).

My point is that it's not necessary to panic. Let's not give too much credit to the Romney campaign. It wasn't that he did so much better in the debate; it's that Obama did so much worse. The polls will move towards Romney. Then they'll move away from Romney because the movement is based mostly on GOP enthusiasm after the debate. This is the same enthusiasm gap the GOP was supposed to have from the beginning, but didn't because Mitt was/is such an ineffective candidate. The media will have something to print (print; what a dinosaur I am). But in the end, all the GOP has is Romney, and that should brighten the day of every Democrat and liberal in the country.

And it doesn't matter when Obama calls him on the 47% comment, as he surely will on October 16. Mitt's tried to admit that the comment was wrong, but I think he had that line all cued up for the debate. Since Obama didn't mention it, he never got a chance to deliver it in front of 80 million people (as if that would make up for its offensiveness). So he had to go on FOX to say it, and the comment was then promptly buried by the good jobs numbers. At the next debate the country will be reminded of Mitt's policies and will find them lacking, just as they did before the debate. You could say that Mitt's peaking a bit early and is set up for a fall. If you don't want to say it, I just did.

If you really want to panic, then go ahead. For me, good jobs numbers always beat debates. And truthers. And bad ideas like killing PBS and only covering people with preexisting conditions if they already have insurance but otherwise leaving them to the mercy of insurance companies. And turning Medicare into a voucher system. And being on the wrong side on women's health and rights. And dismissing 47% of the country as being dependent on government aid and saying it was wrong to say it, but not wrong to think or act on it.

Gee, all of a sudden, I feel much better about this election. Go. Fight. Win.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Narrative's Changed, but the Song Remains the Same

Mitt Romney won the debate last night because he projected a presidential attitude, seemed to be more interested, and actually strung together answers in clear sentences. Barack Obama was clearly unprepared and stories about his lack of focus on the debates turned out to be true. The right wing media is ecstatic. The left is crestfallen. The narrative has changed.

But it doesn't mean that the election is over, anymore than Romney's September swoon meant that it was over. This debate allowed Mitt to crawl out of the hole he dug himself with his 47% comments (there, I've mentioned it even if the president didn't) and the overall lack of coherent message on the campaign trail. It's probable that his debate performance changes his attitude and his crowd count, but let's think this through a little more specifically.

Romney is still peddling the same Medicare voucher plan, the same tax cuts for the wealthy, the same dangerous foreign policy and the same noxious policies regarding women as he was yesterday afternoon. He's still the same uninspiring politician he's been for his entire career, though he will have a more jaunty step for the next week. The policies he proposed last night will not all of a sudden become more popular as Obama advertising will make sure, and Mitt is still against the auto bailout, which means he'll still likely lose Ohio.

Mitt did himself a great favor in the debate and he was helped by an equal and opposite reaction from the president who did all he could to present a tired, ticked-off image on a day when he could have solidified his advantage and made the other two presidential debates superfluous. Friday's jobs numbers could be the second half of a one-two punch that should have only been one punch. The press will make more of this because, after all, they need eyes on their websites and dollars in their pockets.

We now have a race, but my sense is that it will just be a closer version of the race we had on Wednesday afternoon. Obama still has the lead and he'll likely keep it in the swing states that are critical to his reelection. Let the national polls show a Romney bump (and they will). My focus will be on Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada. If Wisconsin suddenly turns, then it's bad news, but I don't think that will happen. There are two more debates, and if my reading of history is keen, as it sometimes is, Obama can turn himself into the comeback kid who wipes the floor with the rich guy next time they meet.

Yes, the narrative has changed, but the song remains the same.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Polling and the Debate

The pace of polling has slowed down since last week, but the overall trend is still towards Barack Obama in the swing states. His national numbers are somewhat closer, but Gallup (RV poll) still has him up six and Rasmussen has him leading by one, which is down two points from Monday. New Quinnipiac and CNN polls have Obama ahead by four and three, respectively, and the Washington Times has him up nine.

There has been a great deal of debate in the polling world, that has spilled over into the general population, about poll methodologies and whether the national polling firms are oversampling Democrats to arrive at their numbers. My view is that the polling firms are seeing a shift in the number of people who are identifying themselves as Democrats and are adjusting their findings based on that shift and the overall demographics of the polls they're taking. It would be counterproductive to say that a pollster such as NBC/WSJ is cooking the numbers because NBC is part of the equation. By that measure, the Washington Times should have Romney ahead since they are a conservative publication, but they have a D-37 R-34 I-29 split while showing Obama with a 50-41% lead. Is the Washington Times in the tank for the president? Scott Rasmussen? The Wall Street Journal (whose pollster was aligned with the Bush Administration)? I would think not. I can certainly understand why some would question a sample that has a D+9 spread, but I would be loathe to assign a diabolical plot to such a poll.

The other clue about the accuracy of the released polls is how the campaigns are acting. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are not smiling easily or walking with the swagger of frontrunners. They are fighting hard for the swing states they need to win and are assiduously making their case for election. President Obama is likewise running thousands of ads in Colorado, Ohio and Florida and fighting for every vote. Neither side is ahead by a substantial margin at this point. The polls will change, but it would be irresponsible to say that they're accurate only if the candidate you support is leading.

Where does that leave us with the first debate directly ahead? Can debates change people's minds? Yes, they can. But they seldom do. With Mitt Romney behind in the swing state polls, he needs to have a solid performance against a president who is not as effective a debater as many people think. Romney's had more recent experience because of the GOP primary debates while Obama has been making speeches, which he's good at, but he can become wordy and pedantic with some of his answers. In the end, Romney has to convey a narrative that leads voters to believe that the country needs a change in leadership. Obama will need to more forcefully defend his policies and remind voters of the state of the country when he took office. Will likeability also play a role? You bet. And we all have to be on gaffe watch duty in case it provides a turning point.

Enjoy the show.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Would You Buy A Used Car From This Party?

In February, I sounded the warning.

But, evidently, there are still people out there who either haven't heard the news or don't want to believe it. The Republican Party is headed for a terrible crash that will weaken its influence and lead to a reassessment of its platform and direction. We're already seeing the evidence, from Mitt Romney's comments on the 47% and his contention that Palestinians don't want peace, to Todd Akin's ignorant rant about rape victims and all of the other far right conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, a socialist and unqualified to be president because he's not a citizen. These ideas have not gone away, nor have they been submerged for the good of the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Now the GOP is running a campaign that says that they have the solutions to our nation's problems. But why should we trust them? They've been wrong on every major issue over the past four years.

Consider the following Republican pronouncements:

Stimulus will cause inflation.

The Supreme Court will find the health care law unconstitutional.

Cutting taxes for the wealthy will result in economic expansion.

The polls are wrong.
Really wrong.
Democrats do not win elections we say they won't win.
Why aren't you listening to us?

Isn't it amusing that the party of anti-science would be so concerned about the science of polling?

Now comes word that the party of morality is considering jumping back in to the Akin Senate campaign in Missouri. Does their hypocrisy know no bounds? No wonder Obama's polling bounce is due mostly to support from women.

This is a political party without defining principles other than irrational celebration of the individual at the expense of the community and a misplaced sense of right and wrong. It can't end well, and it won't.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama's Big Bouncy Bouncy

Remember the Super Ball (if you do, you're old, but that's OK)? The rubber and plastic ball that was wound so tightly that it bounced halfway to the moon when an eight-year-old threw it?

That's how big a bounce Obama's received since the Democratic National Convention ended three weeks ago. It's astounding, and it's driving the Romney campaign crazy.

Scores of polls have been released since the DNC and the overwhelming majority have shown President Obama leading nationally and in the swing states that will decide this election. Republicans and some independent polling analysts are questioning the results of those polls, stating emphatically that they overstate Democratic participation and assume that the 2012 electorate will look more like 2008 (more Democratic participation) than 2004 (fewer Democrats) or 2010 (many more Republicans, and Independents who voted Republican).

Still others say that polls are usually right given that they're aggregated from a variety of sources, such as the Real Clear Politics Index, and that changes in the electorate, whether pollsters call cell phones or use Internet-only methods, and the effects of early voting laws make polling an inexact science at best. Watch where the candidates spend their money and you'll get a sense of where the races are the tightest, they say, and will be based on candidates' internal polling. Right now that's in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia where the two campaigns are running thousands of TV spots per day in an attempt to either away voters or destroy their brain cells. It's difficult to tell. Even here, it seems, the Obama camp has an edge, though Republican PAC money will surely change the equation soon.

At this point in the campaign, and polls can only give us a snapshot of this moment in time, President Obama has gained traction and has expanded his lead in the race. Part of that is his convention bounce, part of it is Democrats more firmly committing to his campaign, and part of it is reaction to Mitt Romney's 47% comment that has cost him the support of some independent voters. Obama is polling at or above 50% in many of the swing states while Romney is polling in a narrow range of between 44 and 47%. This has to concern Republicans because 47% is where John McCain ended up four years ago. And Romney has not led in any of the swing states save for North Carolina in quite some time.

Next Wednesday's debate will be Romney's last, best hope to turn this election around. He'll need to show a side of him that voters have not seen in order to convince the undecideds that he's the answer to the nation's problems. The President does have weaknesses on the deficit, unemployment and unrest in the Middle East. And word is that Obama is not preparing for the debates as thoroughly as Romney, which has to make the Republicans hopeful.

But Romney not only has to improve, he's got to make up ground lost due to his own missteps. That will be a tall order.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Issue With Issues

Remember when Paul Ryan's selection meant that the 2012 campaign was going to be about issues? Like the "Scott Brown Means the End of Healthcare" and "The Supreme Court Will End Obamacare" narratives, this one also might turn out to be wrong. So far this is a campaign about Mitt Romney tripping over his own tongue and Paul Ryan trying to sweep it up from the floor. At some point, though, Mitt will stop saying destructive things and President Obama will need to confront the economy, so this race has some tread on it going forward. Given the polls, though, Romney had better step hard on the gas, and soon.

The Medicare debate does not seem to be hurting Romney in Florida, at least according to the latest poll from the Miami Herald. That's good news for the Republicans. The problem is that they're not saying exactly how they would pay for those over 55 to stay on traditional Medicare while weaning those younger onto a voucher system (a teat of a different size?). Perhaps the elderly voters have already internalized that they wouldn't be touched by the Romney/Ryan plan, so why oppose it? Those who would fall into the voucher zone have plenty of reason to be nervous, suspicious and demanding of details. I wouldn't hold my breath. This is the same team that says they aren't going to tell us what taxes they're going to cut until they get elected. If the polls are correct, that could be years from now.

The economy, which was supposed to be the downfall of the president, doesn't seem to be hurting him at this point, but there's still time for the GOP to highlight it every day and remind people about the unemployment rate and the deficit. Mitt's 47% comments didn't help him and several polls have shown that Americans now say that Obama would be the better candidate when it comes to fixing our economic house. This is a huge turnaround since the spring and, with women and more enthusiastic Democrats, is providing him with the polling bump he's received since the Democratic National Convention. Keep in mind that there are two more employment reports to be released between now and election day, so the danger isn't past for Obama. But now a plurality of voters think that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who can't be trusted on jobs, so he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to catch up.

Neither party has highlighted the old standby social issues of abortion, marriage equality and prayer in schools, so we've been spared the usual fights over who's more moral. Part of that, I think is that the GOP understands that most young people don't want to fight those fights and most older people have already staked their territory on those issues. Whatever the reason, it's good news.

The presidential debates are next week and I'm sure we'll get an earful on the issues from both candidates. The conventional wisdom says that debate gaffes, missteps or forceful performances will affect people's votes. The research says that's not really true. That's not good news for Romney, who is behind in the key swing states and needs a defining moment to build upon for the final six weeks of the campaign.

With most voters having made up their minds, and with a small slice of independents still on the fence, this election could turn on a mistake by either candidate, so look for them to play it safe and stick to well-worn scripts. It's not the most interesting way to conduct a campaign, but it's the system we have.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Passion of the Mitt

Really, all that's missing is the thorny crown. Mitt Romney all but threw himself under the bus this past week as he attempted to show his conservative bona-fides. The problem is that right wing Mitt hasn't quite reconciled with moderate Mitt. The result is a political dissonance not seen since Sarah Palin looked out her front window and saw Russia. It's embarrassing, and it's going to cost Romney the election.

Of course, I'm not talking about the 53% of Americans he identified by omission as hard-working people who take not a whit of government money, including Social Security, public pensions or tax credits. These people built it by themselves and if it wasn't for those Cheatin' Chinese, we'd be out of the economic doldrums and on our way towards prosperity.

What I'd like to know is why the 53% aren't showing up in polls for Romney? In the latest national polls, Romney has 45, 43, 46, 45, 46 and 47 (in a Rasmussen poll where he actually leads Obama by two) percent of the vote. The latest NBC/WSJ poll has him losing by 50-45%. If the 47% are in the tank for Obama, that should leave plenty of room for a majority in Romney's corner. It isn't happening yet. And time is running out quickly.

What Mitt's comments about the moochers who support Obama and his disastrous ruminations on the violence in the Middle East have done is to divert precious moments away from his central attacks on the president's economic record. And Medicare (does anybody remember Medicare? This is an election about Medicare.) And the deficit. And any other substantive issue that Romney/Ryan believed was going to win them the hearts and minds of American voters with valid picture ID's everywhere. The Republicans have lost days in the maelstrom of media-driven narratives and have tripped over their own tongues. And all Obama has had to do is to get out of the way, gracefully, and let them fail.

This election is by no means over. The first debate is October 3, and that presents Mitt the absolute last chance to reset himself and present his arguments to the electorate. The problem is that research shows that the debates do more to solidify the state of the race as it exists prior to the debates than they actually change minds. Plus, many people are just now tuning in to the election and they could decide that Obama has had his chance and he didn't deliver. Stranger things have happened.

But even stranger things have already happened in this campaign. And they've all happened to Mitt.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Raining Polls

The Democratic Nation Convention is a dot in the campaign's rear-view mirror, but the shift in public sentiment it engendered is now embedded in the polling numbers. And that's not good news for Mitt Romney.

The one bright spot for Mitt's campaign is in North Carolina, where a Rasmussen poll has him leading by 51-45%. This is a firm enough pick-up for the GOP that the Obama campaign will probably not contest the state too vigorously because there are other states that need their attention.

Most of the other state polling over the last week shows the president with small leads in some of the swing states and solid leads where he needs to have them, most notably in Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the conservative groups supporting Romney have pulled their advertising, and New Jersey where, despite Chris Christie's best efforts, Romney is behind by double digits. Those states, though, were always considered nice switches if the election was going to swing hard against Obama and Romney was going to win in landslide, a scenario not out of the question last spring when the economy and momentum were on Mitt's side. After a summer in which Obama ran a textbook incumbent's campaign (define your opponent negatively, change the topic from the economy, force Mitt further to the right), the big Republican win seems to be fading. Romney can certainly pull this election out, but he'll need to go a different route than the 44 state rout he was thinking about.

In the states where the election will turn, the latest polls show a virtual dead heat. Obama leads by one point in a Rasmussen Virginia poll and by one in Colorado according to a Denver Post/SUSA survey. In Florida, and NBC/WSJ/Marist poll has Obama leading by 49-44%, but the poll overstates Democratic participation so the actual results are probably closer than five points. Both Rasmussen and ARG show one point leads for Obama in Ohio and UNH/WMUR sees Obama with a five point lead in New Hampshire. If Romney can carry Ohio, Florida and Colorado, he'd be within two Electoral Votes of the presidency and could win with any one of New Hampshire or Virginia. This is a tall order, but this is where both he and Obama will be spending the most money and time over the next seven weeks.

The main focus for the next few days, though, will be on Wisconsin, a state that hasn't been polled since the DNC. With native son Paul Ryan on the national ticket, a poll-leading Republican, Tommy Thompson, atop the Senate ballot and a Republican governor at the helm, Wisconsin has been trending red for the past two years. The Romney campaign is putting a good deal of money into the state and a win there would be a huge pickup. In fact, a Romney win in Wisconsin could mean that Ohio follows suit. That would obviate the need for Mitt to win Colorado. It's big. Perhaps we'll get some numbers this week.

The national polls show an Obama bounce that has faded somewhat, though the Rasmussen tracking poll had Romney ahead by four early in the week and now shows his lead cut in half. Gallup has shown a pretty consistent Obama lead throughout the last 10 days. National polls by the New York Times, ABCNews and NBC/WSJ show an Obama lead, but they all overpolled Democrats in their surveys. I at least will need some further confirmation from more realistic internals to make a judgement about the national race. We know it's close, but we don't know just how close it is.

With foreign policy grabbing the headlines this week, the Romney campaign hopes to undermine the president's policies while continuing to attack him on the slow economy. That Mitt's comments on the Middle East unrest were seen as political opportunism will not help him, but if further events lead to more instability, he could correct himself and gain the high ground. Obama has probably built up enough of a lead in the foreign arena to survive, but more problems are clearly not what he wants. The president's campaign has to figure that any day Romney is not talking about the economy, he's losing ground. We'll see what happens this week.

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