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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Research on 2008 Nomination Politics

A new report from the American Association for Public Opinion Research examines the polls that falsely indicated that Barack Obama would win the New Hampshire primary. It concludes:
  • Given the compressed caucus and primary calendar, polls conducted before the New Hampshire primary may have ended too early to capture late shifts in the electorate’s preferences there.
  • Most commercial polling firms conducted interviews on the first or second call, but respondents who required more effort to contact were more likely to support Senator Clinton. Instead of continuing to call their initial samples to reach these hard‐to‐contact people, pollsters typically added new households to the sample, skewing the results toward the opinions of those who were easy to reach on the phone, and who more typically supported Senator Obama.
  • Non‐response patterns, identified by comparing characteristics of the pre‐election samples with the exit poll samples, suggest that some groups who supported Senator Clinton—uch as union members and those with less education—ere under‐ represented in pre‐election polls, possibly because they were more difficult to reach.
  • Variations in likely voter models could explain some of the estimation problems in individual polls. Application of the Gallup likely voter model, for example, produced a larger error than was present in the unadjusted data.
A new experimental study finds:
After Clinton's concession in June 2008, Democrats were more generous toward supporters of their own preferred candidate than to supporters of the other Democratic candidate. The bias observed in June persisted into August, and disappeared only in early September after the Democratic National Convention. We also observe a strong gender effect, with bias both appearing and subsiding among men only

Monday, March 30, 2009

Public Financing

Jay Cost has an excellent post on public financing of presidential campaigns:
[T]he death of public financing cannot be pinned solely, or even mostly, on President Obama. It was a long time coming. In fact, I'd wager that some of the other '08 Republican contenders would have refused public financing if they had won the GOP nomination. Ultimately, the big trouble with public financing is that it is not keeping up with the realities of electoral politics.

He goes on to explain how the public financing system provides candidates with much less money than they could raise on their own, and it delivers it too late.


In California, the 2008 campaign does not seem to have left a legacy of civic engagement. From the LA Times:
Voters streamed to the polls in November, lining up from before dawn until after nightfall, a tableau of involvement that cheered fans of democracy whether or not they supported the winners.In California, almost 80% of registered voters turned out, the highest percentage in 32 years. In Los Angeles, almost 83%. If not as dramatic as Iraqi citizens confirming their rights with ink-stained fingers, it was enough to suggest heightened interest in things political.Not so fast. Last week in parts of Los Angeles, voters were called to the polls once again, to elect a state Senate replacement for Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat who had moved to the county Board of Supervisors. Little more than 6% showed up.It was not an anomaly: When the area's first post-presidential election, the Los Angeles mayor's race, was contested earlier this month, a muted 17% of the city's registered voters turned out ...

Robert Cole was the director of Obama's get-out-the-vote effort among African Americans in California, which succeeded dramatically. Last Tuesday, he was the third-place finisher among Democrats in the state Senate race. Rather than inspire heightened turnout, he said, Obama's campaign appeared to have left many voters burned out. "They felt they had performed their civic duty by voting for Barack Obama for president," he said.

Pasadena also had low turnout. (More from the very useful Election Administration Research Center at Berkeley.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plouffe Speaks

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe recently spoke at Pomona College in Claremont. From one local news account:

Plouffe. speaking to a more than three-fourths full audience at Bridges Auditorium, said the campaign also challenged conventional political wisdom where "almost every time we did we profited," Plouffe said.

"The belief that somehow if we win Iowa, it would reset the entire campaign and give us the ability to make up 20 to 25 point deficits in less than a month against Sen. (Hillary) Clinton in other states. The belief that states like Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska were an important part of securing the nomination. when all the press
focused on bigger states like California, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Even if it was done quietly, and no one probably appreciated what we were doing, that our effort would pay off."

Another story on the same talk here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Race and the Election

In a paper at the recent annual conference of the Western Political Science Association, Phil Klinkner argues:
An analysis of election results and NES data for 2008 shows that Barack Obama underperformed expectations, indicating that his race, while not enough to prevent his victory, did significantly reduce his expected margin of victory.
Full text of the paper here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Politics of Acreage

In analyzing House elections, political scientists do not pay enough attention to district characteristics. In that light, it is useful to think about some data from CQ:

Obama defeated McCain in 92 of the 100 congressional districts with the smallest land areas, according to a CQ Politics analysis that matched the election results with Census Bureau data on the square mileage of congressional districts. Democratic candidates for the U.S. House also cleaned up in these high-density districts, winning 87 of 100.

The more wide-open spacious a congressional district, though, the better McCain did. McCain defeated Obama in 73 of the nation’s 100 largest districts by land area. These areas also tend to be less racially and ethnically diverse and more conservative on cultural issues than the nation as a whole, and are virtual polar opposites of the tightly compact inner-city districts where Obama ran up the score.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The President and Catholics

Writing of controversy surrounding President Obama's upcoming commencement address at Notre Dame, MSNBC notes: "Despite the protests by some, it's worth pointing out that Obama won Catholics 54%-45% in the 2008 general election. Bush won them, 52%-47%, in 2004 over Kerry, a Catholic."

True, but incomplete.

In both elections, the Catholic vote closely tracked with the overall popular vote. Nationwide, President Obama won 53%-46% while President Bush won 51%-48%. Moreover, Obama did well among Catholics because he had strong appeal to Hispanics, who were voting on a variety of issues, not just "Catholic" ones. McCain won white Catholics 52%-47%, whereas Bush won them 56%-43%. As a Pew analysis shows, Democrats made their biggest gains among voters unaffiliated with a religion: 75% for Obama compared with 67% for Kerry.

Monday, March 23, 2009

West Wing: TV and Reality

Some have noted that the TV series The West Wing was remarkably prescient in describing the course of the next election: in a contest with a maverick Republican, a dynamic, young liberal becomes the first nonwhite president. In this light, it is instructive to compare the fictional press secretary to the real one:

Press Secretary Gibbs spars with Jake Tapper:

The Electoral College

Toward the end of Epic Journey, we discuss the future of electoral reform, and there are some recent developments on this front.

A new CQ analysis shows that Barack Obama would still have won under an electoral college district system -- albeit by a narrower margin. See a related post by Josh Putnam.

Meanwhile, the National Popular Vote compact is making headway in state legislatures.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gaps and the 2008 Democratic Primaries

In a paper at the just-concluded annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Patrick Fisher finds:

Despite the considerable amount of attention given to the gender gap, a number of demographic gaps were more significant. Race was by far the most important demographic gap and a key component of Obama’s victory was his tremendous support from African-American voters. State political culture was also an important determinant of Obama’s relative level of support, with states that are characterized as a moralistic political culture more likely to have given Obama a great share of the primary vote.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pledges and Promises

Organizing for America (aka Obama 2.0) is urging volunteers to canvass today for the Pledge Project: "Build your community's support for President Obama’s approach to renewing and rebuilding America by knocking on doors and asking your neighbors to get involved."

The website asks people to "Take the Pledge" by clicking a button agreeing to the following:

  • I support President Obama's bold approach for renewing America's economy.
  • I will ask friends, family, and neighbors to pledge their support for this plan.
A few weeks ago, a group of celebrities took related pledges. At about 3:54 in the video below, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher say: "I pledge to be a servant to our president, and all mankind."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama's "Special Olympics" Gaffe

The president has apologized for his "Special Olympics" gaffe on Jay Leno (below). The apology should settle the matter, but it is worth noting that it would have been a much more damaging episode during the campaign. It would have come across as an insult to Sarah Palin's litttle boy. It would also have reminded people of some previous insensitivity on the disability issue. The Obama campaign ran an ad mocking McCain for not using email, -- even though the McCain's war injuries made it hard for him to use a keyboard.

UPDATE: On Friday, Sarah Palin criticized Obama's comments.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Leno and the Presidency

Tonight will mark the first time a sitting president has appeared on a light-night talk show. But plenty of would-be presidents have done so. Some examples:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG Money

ABC reports that major politicians got AIG-related campaign contributions. Will they give the money to the Treasury?

A list of recipients is here. The Center for Responsive Politics adds some detail:
In the last 20 years American International Group (AIG) has contributed more than $9 million to federal candidates and parties through PAC and individual contributions. That's enough to rank AIG on's Heavy Hitters list, which profiles the top 100 contributors of all time. Over time, AIG hasn't shown
an especially partisan streak, splitting evenly the $9.3 million it has contributed since 1989. In the last election cycle, though, 68 percent of contributions associated with the company went to Democrats. Two senators who chair committees charged with overseeing AIG and the insurance industry, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), are among the top recipients of AIG contributions. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and has collected more money from AIG in his congressional career than from any other company--$91,000. And with more than $280,000, AIG has been the fourth largest contributor to Dodd, who chairs the Senate's banking committee. President Obama and his rival in last year's election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), are also high on the list of top recipients.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Poll with Something for Everyone

A new poll for NPR has something for everybody. Democrats can take heart that voters approve of President Obama and their party's issue positions. Republicans can find a bit of sunshine in the finding that the generic congressional ballot is a dead heat: 42-42 percent.

Monday, March 16, 2009

PACs Vobiscum

Associated Press reports on a source of Democratic advantage in campaign finance:

More groups than ever are contributing money to presidential and congressional candidates as their strongest growth in a generation reflects the fervor over last year's White House election and a desire for access and clout on Capitol Hill. The Federal Election Commission says that on Jan. 1 there were 4,611 political action committees, which are formed by companies, unions or other groups to raise and spend money to help presidential and congressional candidates. That was 9 percent more than the 4,234 PACs a year earlier.Many of the ones created last year reflect the types of issues that President Barack Obama and Congress, now largely controlled by Democrats, hope to tackle this year.
The two-year election cycle of 2007 and 2008 also saw record spending of nearly $1.2 billion by PACs, compared with $1.1 billion the previous two years, the election commission said. In the previous presidential campaign of 2003 and 2004, PACs spent $843 million. Of 2007-2008 spending, $234 million went directly to Democratic candidates and $178 million to Republicans. The rest went to indirect expenditures for candidates, contributions to parties or other PACs, and other expenses.

The FEC report is here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blue Orange?

Orange County, birthplace of Richard Nixon, may be on the cusp of political upheaval. In the Orange County Register, Dena Bunis reports:

Orange County Democrats have become so emboldened by how well President Barack Obama did here on election night that as far as they're concerned they can compete for any seat in this Republican rich environment.

Case in point:

Irvine Councilwoman and former Mayor Beth Krom. She made it official this week that she is going to take on Republican Rep. John Campbell.

Outside of Southern California, Orange County is synonymous with wealth, glamour (e.g., The OC) and conservative politics. The reality is more complicated. Republicans have generally won there, but in 2008, McCain took the county by a slim 50-48 percent margin. What's up?
  • First, it's now a majority-minority county, about 33 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian, and 2 percent African American.
  • Second, while coastal areas are indeed as affluent as the stereotype holds, there are gritty working-class areas farther inland. (I used to live in one of them.)
  • Third, it is home to large numbers of high-income professionals, who liked Obama. Nationwide, he won narrowly among voters making more than $200k a year, and by a 58-40 percent margin among those with postgraduate study. As Michael Barone has argued convincingly, The GOP cannot take upscale voters for granted.
Orange County Republicans will have to work hard to keep their turf from turning blue.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Obama-Republican and McCain-Democratic House Districts

Greg Giroux at CQ Politics has some analysis that supplements the discussion of House elections in Epic Journey:
Some of the most competitive congressional races of 2010 will be in districts where voters split their ballots between Republicans for the House of Representatives and Democrat Barack Obama for the White House.CQ Politics’ analysis of presidential election returns in all 435 congressional districts shows there are 34 that split that way — perhaps a testament to the durability of partisan voting habits in House races or maybe a further decline in the “coattails” effect. Those split districts complement the 49 that favored Republican John McCain for president while helping the Democrats expand their congressional majority.These “Obama-Republican” and “McCain-Democratic” districts, combined, amount to a substantial 19 percent of all House seats. In 2010, the parties will try to bring those districts back into line with their traditional partisan voting patterns.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Dubious Survey

A new study from the Center for American Progress purports to show "the state of American political ideology." It rests on a survey that asked Americans to comment on 40 statements "about government and society split evenly between progressive and conservative beliefs." For each statement, respondents answered on a scale ranging from "totally agree" to "totally disagree."

Unfortunately, the survey instrument is fatally flawed. Take the following statement: "Government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America’s long-term economic growth." For this statement, "totally agree" purportedly represents the liberal or "progressive" position, and "totally disagree" represents the conservative position. There are a couple of problems with the item. First, the word "investment" is spin-speak for "spending," a rhetorical device to increase agreement. Second, the dichotomy makes no sense. The issue between liberals and conservatives is not whether government should support education, infrastructure, and science. It has done so since the Founding era. Rather, the two sides part company on other questions:
  • Should the federal government or the states take the lead role?
  • How much should each level spend?
  • What is the appropriate mix of controls and incentives?

For another statement, "Changes in the traditional American family have harmed our society" the study asserts that conservatives "totally agree" and liberals "totally disagree." Really? Divorce has changed the traditional American family, but does any sensible liberal regard this change as beneficial?

The study poses a good question: how has the ideological landscape changed? Alas, it does not offer a coherent answer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


In Epic Journey, we discuss the president's skill at "code-switching," the practice of moving between variations of languages in different settings. A recent article in The Politico (h/t to Tina Hossain) elaborates on the point:

On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what's known as “dog-whistle politics." His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences. This is part of the reason that as a candidate, Obama won intense support among African-Americans while never being branded, in the fashion of a Jesse Jackson, as a candidate defined by race.In January remarks about the economy, Obama made a reference to “American dreams that are being deferred,” a phrase black audiences understood without a citation as black poet Langston Hughes’. First lady Michelle Obama often cites her upbringing in the “South Side of Chicago.” On Election Night, the winner promised that “we as a people will get there,” an echo of Martin Luther King Jr. made more powerful by not expressly invoking King’s name. Or a year ago in South Carolina, when he tried to swat down the persistent rumors that he is Muslim. “They try to bamboozle you, hoodwink you,” Obama said that night, in what many listeners heard as an unmistakable reference to activist Malcolm X, as portrayed in Spike Lee’s movie.

Monday, March 9, 2009

2008 Money/Voting Rights Act

The Monkey Cage has some useful data on the number of Americans who contributed to political candidates in 2008.

In Epic Journey, we discuss the congressional elections as well as the presidential contest. In this respect, we take note of today's Supeme Court decision, which held that the Voting Rights Act
"does not require state officials to draw election-district lines to allow a racial minority that would make up less than50 percent of the voting-age population in the redrawn district to join with crossover voters to elect the minority’s candidate of choice."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Republican Woes

Writes Beth Fouhy of the Associated Press:
Rush Limbaugh has been Topic A in the political world, with Republicans debating his influence on their party and Democrats trying to elevate the conservative radio host to the GOP's de facto spokesman. The skirmish has cast a bright light on the GOP and its search for leadership in the Obama era. But the personality-driven diversion has deflected attention from the deeper problems the party faces. Simply put, the public isn't buying what Republicans are selling right now. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this past week put Republican popularity at near historic lows. Just 26 percent in the survey viewed the party positively, compared with 68 percent for President Barack Obama, despite the economic crisis and sharp GOP criticism of his $3.8 trillion budget plan.Republicans trailed by more than a 30-point margin on the
question of which party is best positioned to end the recession

Detailed data from the survey here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Religion and the 2008 Campaign

John Green writes in First Things:

Has religion lost its purchase at the polls, pushed aside by questions of prosperity and peace? Is there a fundamental shift in the structure of faith-based politics, driven by crisis and charisma? Do the results presage a new era in religion and politics? All these queries presume a more basic question: What role did religious voters play in the election of Barack Obama?

The first three questions have straightforward answers. Religion has not lost its influence at the ballot box, although the economy did impact the vote. Despite changes in the issue agenda, there was little ­evidence of a fundamental shift in the structure of faith-based politics in 2008. Instead, variation within the structure favored the Democrats. Although the sum of this variation was large enough to put Obama in the White House, it gave no clear evidence that a new era in faith-based politics is in the offing.

The fourth question requires a more complex answer. Obama largely held on to the religious elements of the Democratic coalition, enjoying expanded support from religious minorities, and also made modest gains among some groups of white Christians. In the end, Obama gained some support among the most traditional white Catholics but lost some support among the less traditional.

US News interviews Deal Hudson, who did Catholic outreach for President Bush. He is not happy.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Newt's Epic Journey?

Newt Gingrich is mulling a run for president in 2012.

For some background on Newt, see a 1997 article in Reason.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Full Circle

Saying that the White House has anointed him the leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh has challenged President Obama to debate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Obama's Manager Writes of Limbaugh

David Plouffe, who ran the brilliant campaign of Barack Obama, is pushing the joining the effort to make Rush Limbaugh the face of the GOP:The 2008 election sent many messages. At the top:
Americans wanted to turn the page on the politics of division and partisan pettiness, and they wanted a government -- and country -- that would put the middle class first. Watching the Republicans operate this past month, it would appear that they missed that unmistakable signal. Instead, Rush Limbaugh has become their leader.
As Jonathan Martin writes in The Politico, the tactic is deliberate and systematic. It is also clever. On the one hand, the focus on Limbaugh fires up Democrats who hate him. On the other hand, it presents Republican pols with a dilemma. Support Limbaugh, and risk attachment to his more radioactive comments. Criticize Limbaugh, and incur the wrath of El Rushbo.

The president is a student of Saul Alinsky, and it is clear that his troops are operating according to Alinsky methods. Consider these excerpts from Rules for Radicals:
    • "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
    • "The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Collateral Damage of Campaign 2008

Meghan McCain discusses the impact of the epic journey:
"I fear the election has destroyed my ability and desire to date," McCain, 24, wrote in a lighthearted blog essay Monday on the Daily Beast. "Nothing kills my libido quite like discussing politics."
She is turned off by people who voted for President Obama. She also gets the willies from obsessive supporters of her dad.
She loses interest "when I find my father's face staring back at me on a potential date's Facebook page," she explained.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Outside Money in 2008

Campaign finance is a major theme of Epic Journey. A new report from the Campaign Finance Institute has some fascinating data on "outside money."

Influenced by regulatory changes as well as political circumstances, federal 527s spent $200 million, only half of what they did in 2004, but 501 (c) (4) social welfare groups, (c) (5) labor unions and (c) (6) business leagues disbursed at least three times as much as in 2004 or 2006. (501 (c) educational, religious and charitable groups are prohibited from engaging in partisan campaign intervention)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Look Back in Anger, Again

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, leading conservatives did not have fond memories of the Bush administration:

"Sadly, our former president propelled America to socialism - all the way to third base," with Obama set to bring it to home, said conservative columnist Deroy Murdock. "Our side emerged with neither principle nor power."

And John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, was equally non-nostalgic in speaking about his former boss: "We are better off, in some sense, not having the Bush administration to defend," the former Bush administration official said. "Too many people connected the Bush administration to conservatism, and as we all know, that didn't happen."

Even former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich - while winning laughs for deriding Democrats in power - slammed the recently-retired president. "We didn't get real change. We got big spending under Bush, now we have big spending under Obama," said Gingrich, author of the "Contract With America" that underlay the 1994
Republican takeover of Congress. "The great irony . . . is that we have a Bush-Obama big spending program that is bipartisan in nature," Gingrich told conference attendees.