Sunday, August 26, 2012

Abraham, Isaac and Mitt: The GOP Hurricane Heads Towards Shore

In February I wrote that the conservative wave would crash this year. I even upgraded the warning to a tsunami, and told people to get the hell off the beach. So it couldn't be any more appropriate for a hurricane to be arriving in Tampa just as the Republican Party is gathering for its national convention. It's even more appropriate for said hurricane to be named Isaac, after the biblical character whose father, Abraham, has to prove his fealty to the Almighty by killing his son. The GOP is all about fealty. And sacrifice. And going to the edge of the abyss before pulling back (remember that said Almighty stops Abraham just as he's about to plunge a dagger into a bound and compliant Isaac). The story of Abraham and Isaac is just too perfect for our times, but the GOP has forgotten its lesson.

Yes, folks, this is the modern day Republican Party. It's fractious, extreme, uncompromising and biblical. It relies on the fear of change while also proposing some of the most far-reaching and radical changes this country has ever seen. It wants to deny people their equal rights, bind women to their men, sacrifice the poor so that the rich can have their tax cuts and proclaim itself libertarian while telling you what you can do in the privacy of your home and bedroom. It has questioned the legitimacy of our sitting president and has demonized anyone who doesn't agree with its policies as un-American, anti-American, and foreign.

It's not enough to say that this isn't your father's Republican Party. This isn't even Abraham's Republican Party.

With a party platform that would deny marriage equality, outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and boil health care down to a policy that essentially says lose weight (hello keynote speaker!), the Republicans will gather under a far-right banner that Mitt Romney wouldn't have draped himself in 5 years ago. The father of the nation's health care law now has to run away from it faster than Usain Bolt because the rest of the party doesn't like the idea that until 4 years ago was a Republican talking point.

His running mate, Paul Ryan, is a poster child of the new right and the man who single-handedly turned the election from being about jobs and the economy, which is where Romney needed it to be, into a tutorial on why we need social programs like Medicare, Social Security and food stamps. The Republicans will remind anyone who listens that now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone, but they seem to believe that it's high time we cut those darned benefits that feed, educate and clothe children, and keep them under dry rooves (yes, I said rooves).

I truly hope that nobody gets hurt as a result of the storm heading towards Tampa. The problem is that many people will get hurt because of the Republican agenda. It's a perfect storm of greed, intolerance and uncompromising radicalism. Forget the beach; it's time to move to the high ground, and fast.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Polling on Convention Eve

It’s been a rather eventful week in the polling arena, with various outfits (well-known and otherwise) conducting surveys and trying to get a sense of where the electorate stands on the eve of the Republican convention. Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate resulted in anywhere from a 3 to 5% bump in the national polls for the GOP, but much of that has dissipated over the course of the week. Romney is running better in many state polls, and as pollsters move to a likely voter model, the conventional wisdom says that Romney’s numbers will eventually break through the 46-47% barrier he’s currently behind.

The week began with polls that seemed to defy gravity. An FMWB Florida poll showed Romney with a 14 point lead, mostly due to the polling firm’s making some, um, interesting assumptions about who will show up to vote in Florida on election day, for example, saying that only 2% of the electorate will be under 30. FMWB then came out with a Michigan poll showing Romney up 4, which sounds responsible, but the Florida poll made many people suspicious of any result from this pollster. Two days later, another Michigan poll had the president ahead. Strange doings.

Quinnipiac/CBS/NYT then entered the fray with swing state polls showing Obama ahead in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, but the polls seem to have overstated Democrats, which should give Romney hope. He’ll need at least two out of these three states if he hopes to win in November, though my sense is that if he wins in Wisconsin, then he’s going to win a lot more Midwestern states too. The University of Cincinnati supported the Ohio findings with their own poll, but they didn’t post party ID, so it’s difficult to see if their numbers were accurate.

Missouri also garnered attention this week, but for all the wrong reasons. Polling in the post-Akin comments era was promising at first, but two new polls, Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon show Claire McCaskill with a solid lead in the race. Curiously, Rasmussen released a poll showing Obama ahead by 1 in Missouri, but subsequent PPP and Mason-Dixon polls showed Romney with leads that I believe will stand through election day.

Another swing state, Colorado, was polled by Onsight Public Affairs and showed the president with a small lead, mostly due to strength among women and Latino voters. Romney will of course contest Colorado, but my sense is that this could be the first state he abandons if September polling shows that his money would be better spent in other markets, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.

By the end of the week, stasis had been restored. Obama claimed a smaller lead in the national polls, and was back where he started the week with the national trackers, Rasmussen +1 and in a tie according to Gallup. Still, it was a good week for Mitt Romney as his numbers slowly rose higher and his message began to gain traction. As he enters the GOP convention he can feel confident that he will gain a significant bump in the polls and emerge from Tampa with anywhere from a 5-7% lead in the polls, which would translate into a 7-10% gain. He’ll probably lose some of that lead after the Democratic convention, and we should see Romney with a small lead by the second week in September. Remember also that the latest jobs numbers will be released two days after the Democratic convention ends, and right now it doesn’t look as if those numbers will be promising for the president. This could lead to more of a bump for Romney.

The campaign is about to get underway in earnest after a summer of name-calling and side issues. Let the fun begin.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Ryan Bounce

It's been more than a week since Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, which is enough time to determine the extent of any bounce in the polls. At this point, the answer is that Ryan has helped in part, but it remains to be seen if he provides a more lasting upward movement in Romney's numbers.

Last week, Mark Blumenthal of Huffington Post/Pollster wrote that the polls weren't showing much of a bounce, perhaps 1 or 2 percentage points towards Romney, but most of the gains were within the poll's margin of error and that President Obama had gained in some polls after the announcement. Nate Silver weighed in on the Romney bounce in the polls and the Intrade markets, and was unimpressed, but he did note that many of the trend lines in recent polls have been moving in Romney's direction. Stuart Rothenberg also wrote an interesting piece warning that party identification samples are key to deciphering polls and weighing their relative merits. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who watches and analyzes polls, but it will become even more important as pollsters move from registered voter samples to likely voter models after the party conventions.

The state polls that were released last week show better results for Romney than any perceived bounce from the Ryan announcement. The Purple Strategies polls from August 15 give Romney leads in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, and Obama the lead in Colorado. Recent polling in Virginia is showing promising news for the Romney campaign as he tries to cut into Obama's perceived strength in the Washington suburbs. From the article:

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says the task for Romney is to put the “pieces of the puzzle” together: the Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Washington suburbs and exurbs, along with the rural regions of southwest Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and Southside. “The rural areas are still 20 percent of the vote in Virginia,” Sabato says, and the people there are conservative. The difference this year is that Republicans in these parts of the state are more motivated than they were in 2008. Maximum turnout among rural Virginians could make all the difference.

If those results stood up until November, Romney would win the presidency and the Republicans would probably take the Senate.

There were a pair of Wisconsin polls, with Romney ahead in the Rasmussen survey and Obama ahead in a CNN poll. The big difference is that Rasmussen polled likely voters and CNN found registered voters, so in this case I would say that the addition of Paul Ryan has probably affected the race.  The president is ahead according to a Franklin & Marshall  poll of Pennsylvania (registered voters) by 47-42%, but that margin represents a reduction from 11 points the last time F & M polled, so the Romney campaign will probably look to put more resources into that state.

The national tracking polls don't really show a sustained bounce for the GOP. Gallup now has Romney with a 2 point lead, which is up from a tie late last week, but the Rasmussen tracking poll shows Obama leading by 2. That represents a 6 point swing for the president who was down by 4 as late as last Wednesday. 

In the end, the polling after Romney made the Ryan announcement has been mixed with some good news on the state front for Romney and a continued national lead for Obama. The Republican Convention provides our next opportunity to gauge the race and I would say that this is Romney's biggest and best opportunity to introduce himself to the American people. If he does it well, he could see a 10 point bounce in the polls. Anything more would be gravy, but anything less would be seen as disappointing. In addition, unemployment figures will be released not long after the Democrats close their convention, and we know how both campaigns will use those numbers.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Confessions Of A VP Voyeur

Sarah Palin scared the crap out of me. Paul Ryan? Not so much.

When John McCain announced that he was choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, I got a cold shiver down my spine. Not the same cold shiver I got two or three weeks later when it became clear that simply by talking was Governor Palin a threat to national and educational security, but a cold shiver that entertained the idea that these two could win the White House. And let's be fair: Sarah Palin was a fresh face, she was energetic, she was a woman, she could energize a crowd and she was very darned compelling. Next to her, Barack Obama looked plodding and dull. I thought the race was over.

We all know how that worked out, and America is a stronger country because of it.

I was thinking of all of this over the past few days after Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. My reaction? Very little emotion. I didn't feel threatened. I wasn't scared. None of that adrenalin fueled fear I had in 2008. Nope, Paul Ryan does not scare me in the least. And that's interesting because Ryan has a wealth of ideas and proposals and serious thoughts that would never take an overnight in Sarah Palin's amygdala.

I searched a bit deeper, and this is what I found. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are too much alike. When they stand together, they look like the corporate jerks who sent your job to Hyderabad and your health care to the local EmergiCenter. They even talk that way. I always admired how the GOP could take an image and make it work on television, but they've come a cropper this time. Looking at Romney-Ryan is not a compelling visual. As a matter of fact, it's a bit boring.

The press narrative so far is that Mitt chose someone as a counterweight to his emerging image as a gaffe prone slice of white American cheese, but that's exactly what Mitt didn't need. He needed to move towards the center of the political spectrum with a politician who didn't threaten the middle. Ryan looks the part of the counterweight, but his ideas are easily packaged as a scary, program-cutting menace who will throw your grandma under select vehicles that, at this point, you can't afford anyway. And that's exactly how the Obama campaign is playing it.

The other thing is that I don't get the sense that the excitement over Romney's choice will last very long. He's already running away from Ryan's budget, making the questionable assumption that his 59-point economic plan is somehow a better political plank than the reason he chose Ryan in the first place. Ryan is a darling of the far right, but not of the middle or independents. To win them over he's got to move beyond deficit reduction to something the middle can grab hold of, but neither Romney nor Ryan has that. They have a bad economy, high unemployment and hatred of Obama on their right flank. They have to promise a vision of the country that's better than what we have now. Cutting Medicare while saving every weapons program and keeping tax cuts for the wealthy is not the way to do that. The right wing will vote for Mitt anyway, so he really didn't need Ryan to shore up the base. What he will need is more independent voters in Florida and Ohio. I don't think he gets them with Ryan.

In the end, voters want to know what's in it for them. They say they want deficit reduction, but what they really want is a job and a home and a decent neighborhood school. Romney-Ryan has the opportunity to make the case for that, but it will be difficult because that's not the evolving national conversation. President Obama has run a terrific campaign so far keeping Romney on his heels and controlling the message. Romney can try to change that message, but his choice of Ryan now limits, rather than expands, his choice of subjects. Just as Mitt is being defined as the rich guy, Ryan will be known as the cut Medicare guy. That's not a winner.

And that's why I'm not afraid of Paul Ryan.

(But Sarah Palin still scares the crap out of me.)

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vanilla Thunder: Mitt Makes the Bold Choice

So which is it? Did Mitt Romney make the VP pick that Barack Obama wanted? Or is this Romney being Reagan? Should Democrats be giddy at the Paul Ryan pick or should smart Democrats (which includes all of us, by the way) be worried? Was Ryan the only logical pick for an election that will hinge on economic policy? Or was this pick an admission of fear from the Romney campaign?

At the very least, it's a good thing nobody said that a looker like Ryan will attract the women's vote (see Quayle, Dan). Perhaps that's the next story. On to the analysis.

First of all, there has been some polling on Paul Ryan, and the results are clearly mixed. The most recent, from August 7 and 8 of this year, shows that 54% of Americans have never heard of the guy. Turns out, they were probably paying attention to their lives, jobs, hobbies, successes and problems, and not to some good-looking guy from Wisconsin who wants the government to mess with their Medicare and Social Security. Of those who had heard of him, 27% had a favorable view of Ryan.

Reaction to his economic plan though, tells a different story. From the article:

However, some media pollsters asked about the substance of the plan and found net negative reactions among those willing to venture an opinion. In June 2011, for example, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll posed the following question to Americans:
There is currently a proposal to change how Medicare would work so seniors being enrolled in the program ten years from now would be given a guaranteed payment called a voucher from the federal government to purchase a Medicare approved coverage plan from a private health insurance company. Do you think this is a good idea, a bad idea, or do you not know enough about this to have an opinion at this time?
Although nearly half said they had no opinion or were unsure (47 percent), more considered it a bad idea (31 percent) than a good one (22 percent).

Other polls and analyse, such as this from Nate Silver, tell a similar story. 

It’s going to take some time before we can reliably measure the impact of Mr. Romney’s choice. Vice-presidential picks sometimes produce “bounces” in the polls, especially when they are as newsworthy as this one, but they often fade after a few days or a few weeks. And the party conventions, which almost always produce polling bounces, are coming up soon.

I think there are other “bold” picks that Mr. Romney could have made — Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, or Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada — where the balance of risk and reward would have been a little better. Some of these candidates, especially Mr. Rubio and Mr. Christie, would also have excited the Republican base. But they might also have had a more natural appeal to independent voters, and to demographic groups that Mr. Romney is struggling to win over.

That last line is key. Romney is trailing in most polls and needs to lock down independent voters, who voted for Obama in 2008, in critical swing states. Paul Ryan is not a safe choice for that task. He's a lightning rod and a true believer. Romney-Ryan now face the difficult task of not only convincing voters that they will do better on the economy, but must also sell voters on the farthest of right-wing proposals in order to accomplish the task. And that includes giving up cherished entitlements that most people rely on in good times and bad. The GOP won huge majorities in the House of Representatives and statehouses in 2010 by running against President Obama's Medicare adjustments. Ryan's plan includes severe cuts and changes to Medicare. Do the Republicans think they can win Florida with that plan? Good luck.

Of course, not all is rosy on the budget attack front. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is firmly behind the Ryan Medicare plan, and that could complicate the Obama campaign's message. In the end, Obama will bet that most people don't know and don't care who Ron Wyden is, and I would agree with that assessment. I also seem to remember that one of the Republican candidates supported a health care program similar to Obama's. Forget his name, though. It'll come to me.

The funniest idea I've seen on the Ryan pick is that Republicans are now saying that this campaign will finally focus on the issues. And I thought the Democrats were the party of naive idealism.

This campaign has been fought on Barack Obama's terms so far and the Romney campaign has done little but to be defensive and slow. If the race is going to be fought on ideas, it will mean that Romney-Ryan has taken control of the debate and is driving the daily message. That will be a feat. It's certainly doable and Mitt has about two weeks, through the GOP convention and a couple of days afterward, to change the shape of the campaign. I have my doubts. After all, Obama is running anti-Ryan ads now and he's not going to stop until election day. He's a Chicago brawler and the GOP is underestimating his tenacity if they think he's going to let niceness (or facts, in some cases), get in the way.

The polls will give us a sense of how the race is moving, and the effects of the Ryan bounce, by Wednesday or Thursday. As of today, the Gallup (46-46%) and Rasmussen (Romney 46-44%) tracking polls are close and the overall RealClearPolitics Index has Obama with a 48-43.4 lead.

This is the first touchstone of the campaign and one that the Romney camp badly needs to move the needle. Let's see what happens.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Polling Report: August 8, 2012

Well, where does the time go? Not only should this report have come out on August 6, there are only three months left until the election. Summer doldrums indeed. The silver lining is that a slew of polls have been released in the past couple of days that haven't actually defined the race, but are giving us some idea of where the election will be won or lost.

Last week's jobs report had mixed numbers for both candidates. The topline job creation report looked good, but a look deep into the report showed that the economy is just not sustaining much momentum, even though President Obama will be able to say that all of the jobs lost in the early days of the recession have been gained back.

As for the political numbers, Obama holds a 47.8-43.9% lead in the latest RealClearPolitics average, mainly on the strength of a Reuters/Ipsos poll which has him up 7, and a Pew Research poll from July which had him up 10. The daily tracking polls have come back to Obama in the last two weeks with Rasmussen showing a tied race and Gallup having Obama up 1. As I've been saying for a few months, we are at the point where touchstone events will begin to define the race more specifically. Mitt Romney will choose his running mate (and could reshape the race) and the Republican Convention is a mere two weeks away. Expect Romney to get a sizable bounce out of Tampa and to recharge his campaign with a more focused message and more national media coverage. In early September it will be Obama's turn at the Democratic Convention, and he needs to counter Romney's bounce with one of his own. A swing towards the president will signal a very close race. A small bounce will signal a possible GOP landslide in November.

The latest state polls are firmly in the news today, with a New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac poll garnering the most attention. It shows Mitt ahead in Colorado and Obama leading in Virginia and Wisconsin. Pollster's Mark Blumenthal has an excellent analysis here, with his main points being that there are questions about the demographics in the poll, and that they don't move the race much, though partisans on both sides will want to do just that. Nate Silver, of the Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, essentially says the same thing and notes that the poll is probably overstating both candidates' positions. Nate Cohn of Electionate weighs in here, while Charlie Cook is nowhere to be found.

Other polls also echo the Times as Rasmussen gives Obama a 48-46% lead in Virginia and Marquette University has Obama leading in Wisconsin by 50-45%.

What we can say at this point is that Obama is ahead in enough states to give him the 270 electoral votes either candidate needs to win the election. RCP bucks that trend, giving Obama a 247-191 lead, but the New York Times (302-236), Pollster (281-191), (332-206), and Election Projection (332-206) all seem to show solid Obama leads.

The Congressional ballot shows that the Republicans will most assuredly keep control of the House of Representatives, though their margin could be cut back, and the Senate seems to up for grabs with close races in Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida, Massachusetts, and Virginia to name just some of the toss-up races. There are more. Check your local listings.

By this time next month the campaign will be in full swing, children will be back at school and the NFL will kickoff both its season and its first concussion controversy. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and make sure you're registered to vote in time for November.

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