Precedents

Such certainty:

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 9.56.18 AM

With respect to Nate Cohn, I prefer to assess the race with a bit more emphasis on stuff like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 9.47.30 AM

In political analysis it is important to not relevant precedents & apt comparisons. But it is also important to note the absence of relevant precedents or comparisons. Unless someone can come up with similar search results for “Name of Candidate” + magazine + cover, I prefer to operate under assumption that an Ashley Judd candidacy would have no precedents or sound comparisons. As a result, I intend to be humble in my predictions.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Richard Florida on Elections: Missing the State Forests for the City Trees

Richard Florida is the great proselytizer of the creative class:

[The creative class is] a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries—from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.

I’ve previously written about Florida’s work and how his insights help us understand US politics and elections. His work has value, but I think he and his like-minded theorists tend to look at correlations and attribute too much to their favored factors, ignoring others. This post from yesterday is a good example. He looks at population density, the mix of industry, racial composition and other factors that may answer his question: “what is it exactly that makes big cities vote Democratic?” But there are several problems with his question, and how he attempts to answer it.  First, there isn’t an “exact” answer to such a question; most American cities have been voting Democratic since the late 1920’s, long before there was any significant “creative class,” and when there were few sizable cities west of St Louis or south of Washington DC. History can’t be distilled to an “exact” answer. Furthermore, he asks about cities, but the data he analyzes is metro areas; those aren’t the same thing. And there are many correlations and comparisons he doesn’t consider, including the obvious correlation that almost all of the biggest metro areas are in Democratic states.

Of the thirty largest metro areas in the United States–all but Las Vegas, at 1,969,675, have over two million residents–twenty-four are partially or entirely in states Obama won both times. Seventeen are in states that have gone Democratic in every election since 1992. And five–New York City, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland–are in states that have been Democratic since 1988, when they went for Dukakis. But “metro area” is not the same as a city, and it isn’t a particularly useful measure of political geography. While Obama did lose the Houston and Dallas metro areas, he won the cities of Houston and Dallas. So in terms of cities themselves, almost every single one over 500,00 went for the Democrat. Partisanship of a metro area is most likely determined not by the votes in its core city, but by the votes in its suburbs.  If Florida is going to make statements about cities, he should analyze cities. If he’s going to analyze metro areas, he should make clear his claims aren’t about cities.

As for metro areas, according to Florida’s numbers, Obama won 150, Romney 214. But is that number meaningful? My Chicago neighborhood is less than 2 square miles and holds less than 1% of the population of the Chicago metro area. It’s one of the most racially, ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse places in the world. And my little neighborhood has almost exactly the same number of people as are in the 168 square mile Carson City NV metro area.  Each of the 50 smallest metro areas has fewer than 120,000 people, and most are overwhelmingly white and homogeneous. The total population of those 50 metro areas–roughly 1.8 million–is about the same as the population of the 38th largest metro area, Columbus, OH, and less than one tenth the population of Greater NYC. Lumping Mankato, Minnesota and Pocatello, Idaho in with the Dallas and Boston metro areas doesn’t tell us anything that’s particularly useful about “cities.”

I love maps, so I spent some time looking at the map accompanying Florida’s post to see if there was something useful:

Richard Florida Map of 2012 by Metro AreasIn fact, there is something useful, just not what I think Florida had in mind. Look at the map, and imagine you decided to color in the rest of the map, using a red pen for the counties won by Romney, and a blue pen for the counties won by Obama. You’d barely use your blue pen; the blue areas would continue to look like islands, but the red puddles would become a sea of red: Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 5.02.03 PM But what about recent trends, you may ask? Well, trends are kind of important to look at if one is going to say economic change effects current voting. But Florida’s analysis is not a look through time, it’s a snapshot of the moment. We have no idea, if we look at only one point in time, what the trends are, if there are any. But if we look back at the last few elections, other than the the major shift from Democrats to Republicans in Appalachia and the Ozarks, the 2000 map looks pretty much the same (on this map, from the terrific web site run by David Liep,  red is for Democrats and blue is for Republicans): Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 3.28.23 PM

From election to election, the states contested for their electoral votes haven’t fluctuated much since 1996. Many big cities are in states that weren’t contested, while others–in particular those in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio–were bombed with ads and blanketed with canvassers and GOTV workers. One shouldn’t generalize too much about election results without considering that difference.

Rural America isn’t entirely white. The “black belt,” an arc from southeast Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia and in to central Alabama is mostly rural and heavily African-American. It’s the same along the Mississippi River from Memphis and down through Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and in much of the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado there are significant populations of Hispanics, some whose families have been there for 400 years. And Native Americans are clustered on reservations across the west. But most of rural America is overwhelmingly white. And other than New England and some heavily Scandinavian and German areas of the Upper Midwest, rural America has been voting overwhelmingly Republican for decades. Looking at his data, Florida ends up in a familiar place,

America is divided between cities of knowledge and skill and the rest…This divide is as economic and geographic as it is partisan. America’s polarized politics is a product of its deeply-etched geography of class.

Maybe. But probably not. Big cities, even in conservative states, vote Democratic. Metro regions generally vote consistent with their state and section of the country. There isn’t a single geographic divide in America, and national section–South, Plains and Great Basin vs Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Coast–is probably a far stronger correlation to how a metro area votes than does it’s creative class economics and demographics. To see that, all you have to do is look at Florida’s map…and use your imagination to color in what’s missing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Luxury of an Undisciplined Congressional Caucus

Last night the House of Representatives passed the bill that kept us from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” That was a huge story, but it’s already not the hottest daily political tussle that plays out on cable and in the DC press. Last night the House Republicans chose not to pass the bill authorizing funds for the areas heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Peter King is mouthing off about leaving the Republican Party–since he doesn’t get us close to a majority, I’d rather he stay in the GOP and screw things up from the inside rather than give Dems a racist caucus member–and Chris Christie unloaded on John Boehner.

Because their party screwed them and their constituents, the few remaining Congressional Republicans in New York and New Jersey may have a tougher time in the next election. But long-term, Northeastern Republicans are suffering from the same problem facing rural and Southern Democrats: regionalization of the parties and the narrow margins in the House of Representatives.

Compared to the 1960’s through 1980’s, Congress today is a more nasty and brutish place where the careers of members in competitive districts are often short. Members of Congress, particularly Republicans, are probably more ideological today than in, say, the 1980’s. But as realignment in the South has shaken out, and the conservative/liberal axis now closely tracks partisanship, it’s not always the ideological zealotry of members from competitive districts that endangers them in general elections. The problem for most members from competitive districts is that their caucuses need the votes of almost every member, on almost every single issue.

This is from a piece I wrote a couple years ago for The Boston Review:

Democrats didn’t just control the House: they dominated it. From 1959 through the end of Democratic leadership in 1994, the Democrats, on average, held a 93-seat majority. With so many votes to spare, Democratic leaders could tolerate weak partisan discipline yet still muster the votes needed to pass their legislative priorities…

In recent elections Republican presidential voters have become more likely to vote for Republicans for Congress. Democratic Congressional candidates won only 4 more districts than Al Gore, only 22 more than John Kerry, and only 14 more than Barack Obama. This development has dramatically changed the House. Now that Congressional results largely track presidential results, there are more safe Republican seats, many of them in the South. As a result, the House now has fewer conservative Southern Democrats. Thus, compared to the era of Democratic dominance, ideology now neatly tracks partisanship in the House. Majorities have fewer opportunities to pick up votes from their ideological allies in the minority caucus, so the majority requires more partisan discipline than Democrats required during their dominance. And now a shift of 50 or so seats affects not the degree of Democratic dominance but control of the House.

The “Hastert Rule,” by which Speakers Dennis Hastert and–until last night–John Boehner would not bring to the floor any bill they couldn’t pass with only Republican votes is a more brazenly partisan practice than what prevailed under Speakers prior to Newt Gingrich. But it’s also a result of their narrower partisan margins compared to those enjoyed by Democratic Speakers from the mid-fifties through the eighties. Undisciplined majorities were a luxury for past Democratic majorities, but a threat to the legislative agendas of today’s narrow Congressional majorities (and barring a huge political shock, this will be as much a dilemma for future Democratic majorities as it is for the current Republican majority).

Northeastern Republicans may take a hit because their increasingly regional party acts mostly on regional interests and not in the national interest. Even in strongly Democratic states there are strong Republican pockets, so just as their are a handful of Southern Democrats there will probably always be a few Northeastern Republicans. But over time, what is probably more likely to lead to the defeat of Republicans in districts like thos of Michael Grimm and Peter King is their party’s continued reliance on their votes for politics and policies popular with rural, evangelical and federal government-hating voters in the South, Appalachia, the Plains and Great Basin, but that are unpopular with voters in New Jersey and New York.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Carl Levin and Process…Again

For most of my life I was represented by Senator Carl Levin. I know of few politicians in the last few decades who’ve conducted themselves with such integrity, and on almost all substantive policy issues he’s been right, and often prescient. I was lucky to have him representing me in the Senate. But he can sometimes be obstinate on process matters, like now, when he’s joined with John McCain in trying to torpedo meaningful reform of the filibuster. Ezra Klein summed up their proposal well:

If you think the Senate is pretty much working well as is, and the biggest threat are the folks who want to change the rules, then this is the proposal for you. It lets people say they’re doing something to curb the abuse of the filibuster without actually doing anything at all. But if you think the Senate is broken, there’s nothing in here that would even plausibly fix any of its problems.

In 1999 Congress grappled with a different procedural matter: the impending expiration of the law authorizing the United States Office of Independent Counsel. The Independent Counsel had proven to be a mess:

Two broad dilemmas lie at the heart of the problems with the statute. On one hand is the question of what balance to strike between the independence and accountability of the appointed prosecutor. On the other is how to grant the attorney general the discretion to make fair and necessary appointment decisions while minimizing the potential for conflict of interest.

Currently, much criticism among members of Congress, former prosecutors, and legal experts centers on the idea that the statute is biased toward granting too much independence to the prosecutor and too little discretion to the attorney general.

Such criticism has grown with the four-year-old, $40 million Starr investigation [which began as an investigation of the Clintons’ Whitewater investment but eventually led to the Monica Lewinsky frenzy], but was also directed at earlier probes. Lawmakers “are so upset about Starr, and probably to a lesser extent about me,” says Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel during the 1986 Iran-contra investigation.

Congress let the law expire. But there were a few who had tried to keep it alive:

Today, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and a bipartisan group of colleagues are set to introduce legislation that would rework the statute they want renewed to maintain the independence of investigations into possible corruption by the highest government officials.

But that foursome — Lieberman will be joined by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. — is in a distinct minority. Most members of Congress and even the administration seem content to let the post- Watergate reform fade into history.

It’s not clear to me why Carl Levin clings to procedural inertia long after the need for change is apparent. But he often does, so his opposition to filibuster reform is not a surprise.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Every Man His Own Militia

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

It’s hard to come up with a fair-minded, non-ideological reading of the Second Amendment that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that it wasn’t intended to be an absolute right of every individual to own a personal arsenal for vigilantism. Rather, it was to ensure there would be sufficient numbers of appropriately armed men to serve in local militias mustered in response to invasions, Indian raids and rebellions.

Militias weren’t considered some haphazard gaggle of yokels with guns. The Militia Act of 1792 was very specific about how militia men should be outfitted:

every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack

When the Second Amendment was adopted, a “well regulated militia” was composed of men armed with muskets that in the hands of an experienced shooter could fire about three rounds per minute. Musket He was supplied with 20-24 rounds. The basic small fighting group, as described in the Militia Act of 1792, was a company, composed of 64 privates commanded by about a dozen officers and non-commissioned officers. If all were firing their weapons at an average rate, a company could fire about 225 rounds a minute, and the killing range of their muskets was about 80-100 yards.

Compare the musket’s lethal effectiveness to that of the AR-15. AR-15 The AR-15 was one of the weapons used by Aurora murderer Aurora murderer James Holmes, was the sole weapon of last week’s Oregon mall murderer Jacob Roberts. It is very similar to the Bushmaster carbine found in the car of Newtown murderer Adam Lanza and used by Beltway Snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. The AR-15 has an effective range of over 500 yards, over five times the range of a musket. Standard clips hold 20-30 rounds (although they can be fitted with drum magazines that hold 100 rounds). Even with smaller capacity clips, like used by Holmes, they can fire a tremendous number of highly lethal bullets (far more lethal than the balls of lead flung by eighteenth century muskets). In one minute Holmes fired more than 50 rounds in to the Aurora movie theater.

When the Second Amendement was adopted, it took 16 or 17 men to fire off as many rounds in one minute as one deranged lunatic fired in to a movie theater. If those 16 or 17 men with muskets advanced toward one person with an AR-15, they would have to walk a quarter of a mile under lethal gunfire from one person with an AR-15 before they could get in range to fire a lethal shot from their musket. It they advanced across an open field against a skilled marksman, they would all be killed before they ever got close enough to fire a shot from their own weapons. And four James Holmes’–or two pairs of Muhammad/Malvo or Harris/Klebold–with weapons easily acquired today, could mow down an entire “well regulated militia” before that militia would have been in range to fire a shot.

428px-Twin_M2HB_machine_gun

The Second Amendment ensured that Americans could arm themselves with a musket. But the courts have repeatedly concluded that Americans aren’t entitled to arm themselves with a Browning .50 caliber machine gun. I’d like to think Scalia and his majority on the Supreme Court would stop being blockheads and acknowledge that an AR-15 or a Bushmaster is much closer to a .50 caliber machine gun than it is to the muskets of the militiamen of 1792. But I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Erick Erickson Demonstrates Why the GOP was Baffled By Romney’s Defeat

At Redstate, CNN commentator and major Republican party figure Erick Erickson is lecturing Republican donors on how, according to Erickson, they got ripped off by Republican consultants, and they should instead listen to him. He breaks down the numbers, with a dollop of arrogant condescension:

To understand Gravity, you rich donors need a basic primer. You may think you know this stuff, but I bet you really don’t. Let me break it down for you.

Of the 100% of Americans who exist, about 66% are eligible to vote. These are all rough estimates.

40% are actually registered to vote.

25% of the total American population will probably, actually go vote.

Therefore, a candidate needs 13% of the population to win.

But, and this is a big but, of the 25% of the population that can and does vote, 9% will vote straight Democrat usually and 8% will vote straight Republican.

That leaves 8% left.

2% of that 8% of people will be single issue voters. Of that 2%, most of the single issue voters will tilt slightly to the GOP on issues of guns or abortion, but there are also single issue pro-choice voters, single issue anti-gun voters, single issue gay rights voters, etc.

That all leaves 6% of the population. In other words, to win an election, a candidate must really get 4% of the population to support him because that is the majority of the undecided 6%. A Republican must get a bit more, but then can draw from single issue voters a bit more than Democrats.

Those percentages are the foundation of the data. But the data is more complicated than that. [Emphasis gleefully added]

There’s evidence that the GOP’s pollsters and targeting people were delusional and/or dumb. Looks like Erickson is even dumber. The US population is estimated to be 311 million. Look at his calculations:

Erickson’s Numbers Actual Results
Percentage of American Population to Vote 25% 40%
Total Vote, Erickson Figures vs Actual as of 11-26-2012 78 million 127 million
Percentage of Americans Whose Votes Are Needed to Win vs Obama’s Percentage for 3-4 point win 13% 21%
Winning vote, Erickson Figures vs Actual as of 11-26-2012 40 million 65 million

Erickson brought up voting eligible population and percentage of the VEP registered to vote. He’s pretty close in his estimate of the VEP. Could the subsequent estimates have been intended as percentages of the VEP and not total population? Sure, but that would make his estimates even more inaccurate, as the raw numbers would be calculated as a percentage of 220 million instead of 311 million.

The best part of this is Erickson telling donors “you may think you know this stuff, but I bet you really don’t.” I hope those conservative donors memorize his lessons.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

“Hello, 911, I’d Like to Report a Kid Canvassing My Neighborhood”

I’m catching up on some post-election reading, and today I came across this piece in Campaigns and Elections about the successes of SuperPAC’s that concentrated their resources and focused on state races or on a small number of downballot federal races. The article doesn’t oversell any conclusions. I think it’s a stretch to say that a conservative SuperPAC has much to do with Republicans in Republican districts–such as Kerry Bentivolio in MI-11–prevailing over Democrats who barely mounted campaigns. But it’s obvious that a few hundred thousand dollars in a $2-$3 million race where candidates are barely known, if at all, is usually a better investment than a hundred million ad campaign in a presidential race.

One of the problems for the top of the ticket races is that more TV spending in a media market leads to higher ad rates, and the less the buyer gets per dollar. Other types of spending aren’t as vulnerable to price spikes based on other campaigns. For instance, the USPS doesn’t raise rates in a state because there’s more political mail flowing in to mailboxes. But I see a problem with one part of this prediction:

If anything, Reiff says, Super PACs will refocus their efforts on the ground game in the future—funding canvassing, mailers, phone banks and other GOTV when TV becomes oversaturated.

I think Reiff is correct that SuperPAC’s will look for ways to influence elections other than TV. Mail is an obvious way, because all it requires is money and a few consultants. Phone banking can be effective, and is better targeted than TV anyway. But every election cycle, as more and more of the electorate uses land lines as nothing other than a voice mail that they never use to answer to a live call, phones become less effective. Reiff doesn’t mention online, but that’s another form of voter contact that requires little labor and no volunteers. That leaves canvassing.  While I don’t dismiss it entirely, I doubt the ability of conservative SuperPAC’s to effectively use paid canvassing operations to significantly influence Republican turnout.

Democrats have often used paid canvassing operations for GOTV in areas with high Democratic performance but low turnout. Canvassing isn’t a permanent job, it doesn’t pay all that well, and can’t be done for more than a handful of hours each weekday (thus making it harder to do as a second job, as the canvasser needs to be available in the afternoon and the evening). People who canvass mostly or entirely for financial reasons–in part because it demands more physically than do other forms of voter contact–tend to be twenty-somethings, minorities and people of modest financial means. These canvassers are sent in prime Democratic GOTV areas, which are disproportionately packed with the same kinds of people–twenty-somethings, minorities and people of modest financial means. In Democratic areas, canvassers generally look like the people they’re trying to drag out to vote.

Democrats who need cajoling to vote are generally OK answering door knocks from people who fit in to the neighborhood. Will the people Republicans need to drag out to vote respond to door knocks from people who look like the Democratic voting coalition, and thus often unlike the Republican neighborhoods? Republicans appeal to their voters in part by playing on their discomfort with people who aren’t socially conventional white heterosexual Christians. The black and Latino canvassers, the college students with tats and piercings walking up and down the block, I expect they would regularly be reported to the cops, because, you know, “what are they doing in our neighborhood? They must be up to no good.”

I think Republicans will have a hard time effectively utilizing canvassing. Much of their ideological base is motivated by a rabid hatred of Barack Obama and a whacked out anger about social, cultural and demographic changes in America. Many Republican volunteers can obviously temper their vehemence in the interest of winning. But I suspect filtering the off-putting fulminators from their volunteer canvassing operations makes it harder for Republicans to fill their canvassing slots. The Republican base is also not as well-suited to more physically demanding forms of voter contact. Republican volunteer operations may have less capacity than do Democrats’. These problems are compounded by the fact that Republicans also require more canvassers per voter than do Democrats. Democrats are more likely to be clustered in 70% or more Democratic areas with a high number of people per square mile. Republican GOTV targets are more likely to live in areas that are under 60% Republican–so they’ll have more doors to walk past than will Democratic canvassers–and suburban, exurban or rural. If they’re equal in speed and ability, the average Republican canvasser will contact fewer voters per hour than will the Democratic canvasser.

Conservatives can pay for a lot of voter persuasion and contact. But they can’t pay for volunteers, and there’s good reason to doubt their ability to pay for canvass operations that touch as many Republican voters in an effective way as do Democratic canvasses. Too often people want to believe pablum about “people power” and how if we have more people and more passion liberals can wipe out conservatives’ money advantages. That’s often not the case. But canvassing may be one form of political communication where conservative money will have a hard time matching the power of volunteer-driven Democratic canvasses.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment