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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