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Thursday, April 30, 2009


See my article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Senator Arlen Specter in The Hill March 17, 2009:
“I’m staying a Republican because I think I have a more important role to play there,” he said. “I think the United States very desperately needs a two-party system. … And I’m afraid that we’re becoming a one-party system, with
Republicans becoming just a regional party.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Harry Reid Claims Credit for Obama

Lisa Mascaro writes in the Las Vegas Sun:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid encouraged Barack Obama to run for president in early 2007, telling the then-freshman senator if wanted the White House, he could win it, according to an epilogue to Reid’s autobiography to be released next month. Reid’s advice came unsolicited, the majority leader told the Las Vegas Sun in an interview.Reid said he invited Obama to his office off the Senate floor ostensibly to discuss other matters. But actually the majority leader brought the young senator in to tell him, as Reid writes in the book, “If you want to be president, you can be president now.”Reid recalled Obama as uncertain, even doubtful of his presidential prospects, according to the epilogue in“The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington.”
Reid seems to be claiming credit for Barack Obama's decision to run. If so, he's stretching things. Speculation about an Obama candidacy was widespread by late 2006. On November 30, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times wrote: "I think Sen. Barack Obama, who is seriously considering a run for president, is going to jump into the 2008 race. I predict the freshman Illinois Democrat will announce near the end of this year or the beginning of 2007, sometime after he returns from a holiday break in his native Hawaii." That's what happened. On January 16, he announced his exploratory committee on YouTube:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Campaign Promises and Presidential Realities

On January 19, 2008, Senator Barack Obama issued this statement:
Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Yesterday was Armenian Remembrance Day. reports:

Obama did issue the statement on the 24th, in which he described the "heavy weight" of history and the "terrible events of 1915," adding "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed."But he did not use the word "genocide." ... Obama's April 24th statement still doesn't meet the terms of his promise, and the Obameter stays at Promise Broken.

AP reports: "In breaking that promise Friday, the president did the same diplomatic tiptoeing he criticized the Bush administration for doing."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform

Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute has a new study. From a release:
The public funding system for presidential elections collapsed in 2008. The policy question for the future will be whether to revive it at all and, if so, how." So begins a twenty-page Campaign Finance Institute working paper by CFI's Executive Director, Michael J. Malbin, who is also a professor of political science at the University at Albany, SUNY. The paper is slated to be published later this year in a book to be edited by Costas Panagopoulos, director of Fordham University's Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy. A copy of the full paper, including updated 2008 tables is attached and also available here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spending Cut: Winner or Loser?

"Analysis: In Spending Cut Debate, Obama Wins"
-- CQ Politics, April 21, 2009

"Obama Spending Cut Effort Backfires"
-- Same site, same day

Monday, April 20, 2009

News Sites & 2008 Race: Lingering Impact

Several months after the election, news sites continue to benefit from the interest that the 2008 election generated. From MediaWeek:
According to numbers compiled by Nielsen Online, in March category giants (39.9 million uniques) (38.7 million and Yahoo News (37.9 million) each saw their unique user bases dip just a few percentage points since their November peak. It seems as though the mega-interest in the great race between Obama and Sen. John McCain has habituated users to garner more news online.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Competitive House Elections

Notwithstanding such high-profile races such as the Murphy-Tedisco special election in upstate New York, close House elections have become a rarity. In The New York Times, Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman observe:
Consider that, in the past decade, there were 2,175 elections to the United States House of Representatives held on Election Days 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Among these, there were 41 instances — about 1.9 percent — in which the Democratic and Republican candidates each received 49 percent to 51 percent of the vote (our calculations exclude votes cast for minor parties). In the 1990s, by contrast, there were 65 such close elections. And their number increases the further one goes back in time: 88 examples in the 1950s, 108 in the 1930s, 129 in the 1910s.
They go on to speculate about the reasons for this trend: an increasing incumbency advantage, "sorting out" among voters, and polarization among national politicians. Their analysis should come as no surprise to political scientists, but it is a nice concise summary nonetheless.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rules of the Nomination Game

In Epic Journey, we place a good deal of emphasis on the rules of the nomination process. In a recent paper at the annual meeting of Midwest Political Science Association, Caitlyn Dwyer confirms the crucial role of the rules. Specifically, she finds that Obama won under proportional representation, Clinton would have been leading in delegates under a winner-take-all system. On the Republican side, conversely, Romney would have been leading in delegates if the Republican Party had used proportional representation.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Internet Politics in 2008

A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project has some findings that cast light on politics in 2008 and beyond:
  • Among the entire population the Internet is now equal to newspapers and roughly twice as important as radio as a source of election news and information.
  • Voters are moving away from news sites with no point of view, and towards sites that match their own political viewpoints.
  • Due to demographic differences, McCain voters were more likely than Obama voters to use the Internet. But online Obama supporters were generally more engaged in the online political process and were more likely to post original content, share content with others, sign up for updates , give money to a candidate online, set up news alerts and sign up online for campaign activities.
  • Perhaps most relevant for those planning 2010 campaigns is the following: 83 percent of those age 18-24 have a social networking profile, and two-thirds of young profile owners took part in political activity on these sites in 2008.

Plouffe at Harvard

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, appeared at Harvard's Institute of Politics on Wednesday. He took questions about Obama's New Hampshire loss during the Democratic primaries, Sarah Palin, and the future of grassroots organizing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Palin's Problems Persist

It continues to be a rough season for Sarah Palin.

AP reports that things are difficult in Alaska:
Palin was once praised for her ability to work with Alaska Democrats to push through major initiatives, but in the wake of a bruising national campaign she's more likely now to reach across the aisle to pick a fight.She exasperated Alaska Republican legislative leaders with mixed messages on federal stimulus plans and ended up crosswise with reporters over whether she did or didn't call on the state's junior U.S. Senator, Democrat Mark Begich, to resign.

Ditto The New York Times:
Many pivotal alliances between the governor and minority Democrats are obsolete, undone by mutual bitterness from the election. The rush of oil revenues that helped Ms. Palin press for big-ticket projects in the past has been replaced by a budget deficit that will require taking at least $1 billion out of state savings.

Some think John McCain dissed her on Jay Leno:
“We have, I’m happy to say, a lot of voices out there,” Mr. McCain told host Jay Leno before listing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Utah Gov. Jim Huntsman, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. “There are a lot of governors out there who are young and dynamic.” ecognizing his error, the Arizona senator added, “I’ve left out somebody’s name, and I’m going to hear about it.” That somebody was Mrs. Palin.

And she's learning that it's not a smart idea to get into a public spitting match with an 18-year-old kid:
A recent statement by a spokesperson for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin only served to fuel the media’s coverage of the ongoing feud between Palin’s family and that of Levi Johnston, the father of Palin’s infant grandson and the ex-fiance of Palin’s teenage daughter, two journalists said Sunday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Democrats, President Obama, and the Media

At the Huffington Post, psychologist Drew Westen notes that the Democratic Party is not doing nearly as well as President Obama. (For instance, Democrats have only a very modest lead in the generic congressional ballot.) Westen attributes the gap to the silence of Democratic leaders in articulating their agenda. "Someone needs to be in the fray other than the GOP," he says, suggesting that Republicans have had the field to themselves. "The worst thing to be in politics is silent, because it allows the other side to shape public sentiment uncontested."

Nexis offers a rough and ready way to test his explanation. Look at the number of times in the past month that the four party leaders in Congress have appeared in the headline or lead paragraphs of major newspapers and wires. Here are the results:

Nancy Pelosi 424
John Boehner 106

Harry Reid 209
Mitch McConnell 73

Westen is clearly wrong: if the Democrats have a problem, it's not because they've ceded the media to their GOP counterparts.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Positive Polarization?

Pietro Nivola of Brookings finds virtue in partisan conflict:
Maybe, among the many inflated expectations that we attach to the Obama presidency and should temper, those about the advent of “post-partisanship” ought to be lowered, drastically. In other words, get over it. The rough-and-tumble of our party politics is here to stay. What’s more—and this is even greater heresy—not everything about that fact of political life is horrible.

So far, so good, but he seems to support a crude majoritarianism:

But a political order in which technically just over 7 percent of a legislature—that is, a sub-group that possibly represents as little as 10 percent of the population—can have the last word, as our Senate arithmetic can imply, raises serious questions of democratic accountability and even legitimacy. Let’s face it; making a regular practice of putting, in effect, veto-power in the hands of a minority is hard to square with a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
On this point, Nivola seems to overlook James Madison's argument that there must be more to republican government than the rule of 51 percent. As William Connelly of Washington and Lee University explains in a forthcoming book, the Madisonian system invites both compromise and confrontation, and generates both heat and light. In order to prevail in this system, a leader needs to marshal arguments and assemble coalitions. It it not enough -- and should not be enough -- to shut down debate by saying "I won."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gloom on the Christian Right

James Dobson has taken a very pessimistic turn. Looking at the results of the 2008 election and the early days of the Obama administration, he says: “We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action. We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.” Dobson may be too gloomy. A decade ago, Paul Weyrich said something similar, only to see Christian conservatives have a resurgence.

But both friends and foes of the Christian right might remember what Tocqueville wrote:
[W]hen a religion chooses to rely on the interests of this world, it becomes almost as fragile as all earthly powers. Alone, it may hope for immortality; linked to ephemeral powers, it follows their fortunes and often falls together with the passions of a day sustaining them. Hence any alliance with any political power whatsoever is bound to be burdensome for religion. It does not need their support in order to live, and in serving them it may die.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Campaign Mechanics and Campaign Effects

In a paper at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Associatin, Seth Masket of the University of Denver emphasizes the significance of campaign organization in 2008:

[The] presence of a county-level campaign office was associated with post-caucus delegate gains by the Democratic candidates. I also find that the counties in which the Obama campaign had established field offices during the general election saw a disproportionate Democratic surge, and that this field office-induced surge was enough to flip three states from Republican toDemocratic.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Turnout Did Not Increase in 2008

Michael McDonald has analyzed census data to find that the much-hyped increase in turnout did not take place.

The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, Voting and Registration supplement confirms that African-American and youth voter turnout increased between 2004 and 2008. The statistics from the survey indicate that the 2008 electorate became more representative of the American citizenry. Disparities in yurnout rates among various demographic categories decreased between 2004 and 2008.

The CPS survey indicates that the national turnout rate and registration rate declined a slight 0.2 percentage points between 2004 and 2008. Using estimates of the voting-eligible population and the number of people who voted, I previously reported that the turnout rate increased by 1.6 percentage points between 2004 and 2008. I thus believe that the CPS decline is more apparent than real. The CPS is a survey and is prone to both statistical and non-statistical survey methodology errors, just like any other survey. When there are small changes in statistics from one election to the next, these survey errors are more likely to produce a discrepancy like the one here whereby the actual turnout rate increased slightly and the CPS turnout rate decreased slightly.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama and Polarization

From the Pew Research Center:

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Busted Boomers

A nice turn of phrase from Frank Micciche, managing director of the Next Social Contract Initiative at the New America Foundation.
Despite having plowed significant portions of their paychecks into age-appropriate financial vehicles at the urging of investment gurus, economists and government officials, these folks face years longer in the workplace than planned, provided they can keep their job or find a new one, and serious doubts about their ability to sustain anything remotely resembling their current lifestyle as they grow old. Panic is not too strong a word to describe their overall mind-set. Whichever political party can develop a message to address the anxieties of the Busted Boomers will have a distinct advantage in next year's midterm congressional contests and the 2012 presidential race.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Palin's Problems

Sarah Palin came out of the 2008 election with some political challenges, and things have not gotten better for her lately. From AP's Anne Sutton:
In her home state, she's drawn fire from Republican legislators on the state's use of federal stimulus funds, from Democrats on her state Senate nominee and from Alaska Natives for her choice for attorney general.
As Andy Barr suggests in The Politico, she's had trouble at the national level as well.
A seemingly unending series of public relations gaffes has Sarah Palin loyalists frustrated and worried she is diminishing her stature. And they blame an inner circle they say is composed of not-ready-for-primetime players.
If she aspires to a seat in the Senate or a return appearance on a national ticket, these problems are serious. The best way for her to recover is simply to do a good job as governor. The worst way is to keep complaining about her treatment in the 2008 campaign.

UPDATE: Josh Putnam's comment below makes an important point: Palin's standing in Alaska is still good enough for her to recover from her current trouble. But she is not helping herself by airing her family woes.

UPDATE: And those woes just keep getting worse.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


ABC and CNN use similar language in reporting on the recent drive by Organizing for America (Obama 2.0) to get pledges of support for the president's agenda.

ABC: "Fuzzy Math and the Obama Army?"

CNN: "Fuzzy math in Organizing for America's pledge drive"

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post explains:

CNN and the Huffington Post dutifully reported the DNC's claim of 642,000 pledges. Network cameras and the BBC showed up to film the operation. "We had one of the big printers downstairs smoking last night," party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.

In fact, the canvassing of Obama's vaunted e-mail list of 13 million people resulted in just 114,000 pledges -- a response rate of less than 1 percent. Workers gathered 100,000 more from street canvassing. The DNC got to 642,000 by making three photocopies of each pledge so that each signer's senators and representative could get one.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Epic Journey: A Brief Review

Here's a useful book, by three academics, for all readers wishing to further understand the 2008 presidential campaign—and for those who think they already understand it! Although a Democrat was expected to win the presidency, the journey to that outcome was full of surprises; back stories, circumstances, strategies, and results are all described and objectively analyzed here. There is also a chapter on the congressional and state elections, and a conclusion—about the future. All readers will come away feeling as clearheaded as these writers, a tribute to their work.— Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal