Elections

Journos v. Political Scientists

Carlisle Rainey discusses a potential reason political scientists and political reporters have different views of campaign effects: they use different underlying counterfactuals, in two senses: First, political scientists tend to discuss the effects of small changes in campaigns, while journalists tend to imagine big changes. Second, political scientists construct counterfactuals in which campaigns are responding to each other and cancelling out, while journalists tend to hold one campaign constant and vary the other. The first means that political scientists imagine a world in which, say, a candidate did not commit a gaffe or air a particular ad, but journalists imagine a world in which that candidate did not campaign at all. The latter counterfactual leads journalists to infer big effects but the former leads political scientists to infer small effects. I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t think it accurately represents the thinking of journalists. I think...

Graduating from the Electoral College

We've been electing our president the same way for 200 years. Why do some say it's time for a change?

(Flickr/Occupy Posters)
We all know the states where the 2012 presidential election will be decided. Not New York, which hasn’t voted Republican since 1984, a year when only Minnesota could muster support for Walter Mondale. Not Texas, where you have to stretch back to 1976 to find an election where a Republican victory wasn’t a given. The battlegrounds on which this year’s presidential race will be waged are Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, and Wisconsin, and if you don’t live there, you can forget about the presidential campaigns giving you an ounce of attention. You’re either a given in the candidate’s electoral college tally, or they know you’re out of their league. Is it unfair? That majority of states who get ignored election after election sure thinks so. So why, after over 200 years, are we still using the Electoral College? Let’s explain. Who thought up the Electoral College in the first place? Blame the founders. If you remember your history lessons...

The Obama Campaign's Rust Belt Strategy

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of Ohio illustrates my point this morning about the Obama campaign’s effort to keep Romney from consolidating disaffected white voters. Obama still leads Romney in the Buckeye State, 47 percent to 44 percent, but that lead has declined from 50 percent and 49 percent in previous polls. This decline has everything to do with white voters. Romney has opened up a 7 point lead among white voters, 49 percent to 42 percent. What’s more, he’s lost support from white Democrats. As PPP notes, he went from an 89–6 lead in early May, to 78–16 in June. In addition, Obama has a 9 percent approval rating among undecided voters—who, in Ohio, are disproportionately white. Obama’s saving grace is Romney’s unpopularity; his favorability is at 9 percent, and 61 percent say they hold a negative opinion of him. If Romney were to consolidate disaffected white Democrats, he would have a sizable lead over Obama. At the moment, however, he can’t, and the Bain Capital...

Who’s Sovereign Now?

(AP Photo/Chris Greenberg, File)
Hard to say what’s more bizarre about Antonin Scalia’s furious dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law: his railing at President Barack Obama’s executive order stopping the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (which wasn’t remotely the subject of the case at hand) or his basis for upholding Arizona’s law—that Arizona is a sovereign state with the rights generally claimed by nation-states. “Today’s opinion,” Scalia writes, “deprives States of what most would consider the defining characteristic of sovereignty: the power to exclude from the sovereign’s territory people who have no right to be there.” This power, he continues, has been recognized as far back as 1758, when the Swiss philosopher Emer de Vattel, in his book The Law of Nations , wrote, “The sovereign may forbid the entrance of his territory either to foreigners in general, or for certain particular purposes.” Vattel was writing about nation-states, of...

Department of Justice Acts to Prevent Disenfranchisement in Florida

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Florida governor Rick Scott is attempting to engage in a purge of voters, requiring some voters to prove their citizenship within a limited time frame in order not to be disenfranchised, allegedly in order to address "vote fraud" that for all intents and purposes doesn't exist . The Department of Justice told Scott to stop this illegal vote suppression. Scott's response was to thumb his nose at the federal government and federal law. Predictably, the Department of Justice has responded by suing Scott . The Obama administration's reaction to illegal voter disenfranchisement may seem like no-brainer. And, yet, just 12 years ago George W. Bush attained the White House in large measure because neither principle nor even self-interest could motivate Democrats to care about even more egregious disenfranchisement. The 2000 election was a sort of perfect storm of defects with America's irrational federal election system. And several of the factors that led to George W. Bush to get Florida's...

Obama: Romney Equals Bush

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Back in April, President Obama gave a speech to the American Society of News Editors, where he excoriated Mitt Romney—and the Republican Party—for its adherence to the “roadmap” devised by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. In the speech, Obama presented the Ryan roadmap as modern Republicanism, distilled to its essence. He attacked the plan for its large, across-the-board tax cuts, its complete extension of the Bush tax cuts, and its plan to privatize Medicare. More importantly, he spelled out the implications of Ryan’s budget: to pay for his tax cuts, the federal government would have to suck the marrow from its social services. Everything from food stamps to Pell Grants would see the chopping block, and the federal government would be reduced to a mechanism for upward redistribution, defended by a standing army. Since then, Obama has adjusted his message with attacks on Bain Capital and Romney’s time as governor of Massachusetts, in an attempt to present the Republican nominee as...

What's the Deal With All These Voting Restrictions?

(AP Photo/Michael S. Green)
Though it is the crown jewel of our charming little American democracy, the right to vote hasn’t ever been a thing of glittering beauty. At its best, voting is the stuff of fluorescent-lit hallways at local middle school schools and the withering glares of geriatric poll workers. At its worst, it’s the stuff of racist poll taxes, land owner-only discrimination, and good old-fashioned sexism. Most of us have, understandably, gotten so caught up with the myriad problems facing our nation—a money-oozing general election campaign, rampant cannibalism, and the heartbreaking realization that we just might not be able to keep up with the Kardashians—that recent kerfuffles over voter ID laws and cries of disenfranchisement might have slipped under our radar, awash in that pre-7 a.m. white noise on NPR. Even if you’re lucid and caffeinated, it can be difficult to keep up with all the moving parts of voter ID legislation, court decisions, and good ‘ole fashioned Sunday morning verbal brawling...

AFL-CIO Tries to Claim Some Victories in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Sue Peacock)
After Governor Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin last night, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka decided to walk a strange line on today's press call. WaPo's The Fix has a post arguing that the call was about distancing the union from the recall effort, but to me the union president seemed eager to point to victories—a strange tactic in the face of a devastating loss. "The best-funded politician in state history spent more than $50 million to hold on to his office but he could not hold on to a majority in the state senate!" he said. True, it looks like the Democrats won a single Senate seat last night, giving them control of the chamber. But as I've written , that doesn't necessarily mean much. Barring a special session, the legislature isn't meeting again until January of 2013 —so Democrats will have to hold on past the November elections. Guy Molyneux, a pollster with Hart Research Associates, walked everyone through an election-night poll of 390 union members (as opposed to "union...

Tough Choices

Over at the New York Times , Ross Douthat has a mostly excellent take on the Wisconsin recall and what it means for American politics. The short story is that economic distress will result in a zero-sum politics, where both sides vie for the greatest gains while doing as much as possible to block their opponents. He exaggerates the extent to which this is true on the Democratic side—Democrats haven’t pushed laws to keep Republicans from voting, nor have they used legislation to attack core GOP constituencies—but the point is well taken. Politics has become hyper-partisan and totalistic, and while Douthat doesn’t say it, you can trace this to the Republican Party’s utter disregard for institutional norms (see: the filibuster ). The problem with Douthat’s argument comes at the end, where—in a bold bit of projection—he praises Republican innovation and accuses the Democratic Party of policy nihilism: The House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement...

Sabotage Makes Sense!

Over at Talking Points Memo, Sahil Kapur reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pulled the “sabotage” card on his House counterpart, Eric Cantor: “You have heard, as I’ve heard, that there’s a battle going on between Cantor and [House Speaker John] Boehner as to whether or not there should be a [highway] bill,” Reid told reporters. “Cantor, of course — I’m told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that’s better for them. I hope that’s not true.” Cantor’s office made a speedy response, calling the charge “ridiculous and patently false,” and John Boehner’s office was even more succinct: “That’s bullshit,” said his spokesman Michael Steel. It’s impossible to know whether Republicans have a strategy to sabotage the economy ahead of the election, but it’s hard to fault Democrats for their suspicions. Not only is the GOP obstinate on the question of stimulus—despite wide agreement among economists that the economy needs an...

On the Ground in Wisconsin

We'll keep you updated throughout the day of what's happening in the high-profile recall election.

[ View the story "On the Ground in Wisconsin" on Storify ]

Inconsistent Mandate

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's stances on health insurance mandates stand as one of the great ironies of the 2012 presidential race. At various points both have opposed the mandate and both have advocated for the idea, successfully forcing the measure into legislation. The only problem is that they have evolved in opposite directions. The Obama campaign made the strategic decision to carve out a niche as the anti-mandate candidate during the 2008 Democratic primary. "It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't," said one ominous ad from the 2008 campaign that Obama used to attack Hillary Clinton. That staunch opposition of course changed once Obama assumed office and faced the realities of crafting legislation. His team realized any measure that prevented insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions would collapse without a mandate, as healthy individuals would flee the market, leaving only the...

Tomorrow’s Electoral Wildcard

It’s not in Wisconsin, where the recall of Governor Scott Walker can have only two possible outcomes. It’s in California, where Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein—long the most popular pol in the state—is facing a large field of non-entities as she campaigns for re-election, and where the challenger who may well emerge from the pack to take her on is California’s leading birther: Republican dentist Orly Taitz. Twenty-three candidates are vying to take on Feinstein in November, and not one is remotely serious, even if we define seriousness down to having the capacity to raise just a million dollars in America’s most costly state, and to being known as at least a modestly reputable person to 10 percent of the electorate. Essentially, Republicans have given up on running statewide in California, which has no Republican statewide elected officials and lopsidedly Democratic congressional and legislative delegations (likely to become more so after November). In 2010, GOP gubernatorial...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

The Cost of the Debt-Ceiling Fight

(Flickr/jacqueline.poggi)
For a moment last fall, it looked as if the last-minute debt-ceiling deal was all for nothing. Democrats had caved to Republicans’ demands to cut spending in order to keep the government funded. But Standard and Poor’s decided that the brinkmanship displayed by John Boehner and Republicans reflected poorly on the country’s ability to pay its bills, and decided to lower the U.S.’s credit rating anyway from AAA to AA+. Luckily, that decision was taken more as a reflection of the rating agency than a proper assessment of the country’s credit-worthiness. The U.S. continues to sell Treasury bonds at record low interest rates, a sign that investor confidence hasn’t been shaken. That doesn’t mean the tussle over the debt ceiling last summer came without cost. Economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have an op-ed in Bloomberg today assessing the impact of the debt-ceiling showdown: High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500...

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