Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content


Demographics? Or Issues? Turns out there’s no difference


So as people analyze the Democratic wins (and Republican losses) in the 2012 elections, one theme is emerging as a common point of agreement: the changing demographic characteristics of the United States have hurt the too-white, too-male constituency of the current Republican Party.

One hears versions of this everywhere. Paul Ryan emphasized Obama’s “urban” vote — and we know what “urban” signifies. Mitt Romney has talked about Obama’s “gifts” to various groups … gifts taken from, no doubt, Republicans. Examples are easy to find.

As it happens, I agree with these analyses. Republicans are too white and too male. If they continue in this state, the party is in serious trouble in a changing America.

But this demographic analysis lets Republicans off the hook far too easily. It implies that if they change their public face — e.g., run candidates like Marco Rubio for office — they will fix the demographic gap. Toss in some candidates who are female and, well, Shan-gri-la apparently awaits!

What this argument misses, of course, is the answer to the question, “why”? Why have so many different groups of people abandoned a party that, twice in the last 40 years, set all time records for electoral college margins of victory. (521-17 for Nixon in 1972; 525-13 for Reagan in 1984.) Heck, the first President Bush got 426 electoral college votes in 1988. Now they have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections. How has this happened?

The plain answer is: the leaders of the Republican Party have squandered the party’s advantages by appealing to the worst, basest instincts of a small segment of the electorate:

  • Latino/a? The Republican Party’s leaders are virulently anti-immigrant.
  • Female? The party’s leaders are happy to legislate your sexuality before you give birth, but is indifferent to you once you give birth.
  • Poor? You’re a taker.
  • Minority? The party seems convinced your life is little more than drugs, crime, prisons and pathologies.
  • Worried about the financial meltdown? Don’t regulate the Masters of the Universe, cut their taxes.
  • Health concerns? Go to the emergency room. 
  • Believe in science? You’re a member of the “reality-based community” that spins lies from hell.
  • Like to pay for college? Make sure you pay the bankers their interest.

This list could go on and on.

The Republican Party’s demographic problem is real. But it’s a problem rooted in policy. The Republican Party, which as recently as 2004 seemed poised to achieve the mythical “permanent Republican majority,” now risks falling into history if it can’t articulate a policy agenda that fits the real world of US politics.

There’s nothing like losing to focus the mind. We’ll see how the party makes out.

Politicalprof Predicts!


My presidential predictions for next Tuesday’s elections:

Obama: HI, CA, OR, WA, NM, MN, WI, IL, MI, OH, IA, PA, NY, VT, ME, MA, RI, CT, MD, DE, DC, and I changed my mind about VA = 290.

Romney: AK, AZ, UT, ID, MT, WY, CO, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, MO, KY, IN, WV, TN, MS, AL, FL
, GA, SC, NC = 248.

Note I did not split NE 3-1 Romney/Obama as happened in 2008 and may well happen in 2012.


By the way, this isn’t all that hard to do. There are default Democratic and Republican states that are likely to vote D or R no matter who is the nominee. This is unlikely to change by 2016, so these numbers are the starting point for that election:

Default D states: HI, CA, OR, WA, MN, IL, PA, NY, VT, MA, RI, CT, NJ, MD, DE, DC = 233

Default R states: AK, AZ, UT, ID, MT, WY, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, MS, AL, TN, KY,
WV, GA, SC = 170.

Everything else = all that matters under the Electoral College.


To go all grad school for a moment, I should note that when I started my PhD program, the received wisdom was that there was a Republican electoral college “lock”: that Republicans started with such a core advantage in the EC it would be hard for the Democrats to break through. A combination of the extreme-izing of the Republican Party, centered in the old Dixiecrat Southern coalition, and Clinton’s moderation of the Democratic Party (less union based, less friendly to entitlements, arguably until Obama) has shifted this advantage quite dramatically. Remember: it used to be common for Republicans to win CA and IL. However, the virtual purging of the liberal and moderate Republicans has destroyed this competitiveness. This doesn’t mean Republicans can’t win, just that they start from an Electoral College disadvantage.

I think Politicalprof forgot to list New Hampshire in his prediction but their electoral votes are included in his Romney states and total.

My Map Predictions.

Obama: HI, CA, OR, WA, NM, MN, WI, IL, MI, OH, IA, PA, NY, VT, ME, MA, RI, CT, MD, DE, DC, VA, CO, NH = 303 

Romney: AK, AZ, UT, ID, MT, WY, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, MO, KY, IN, WV, TN, MS, AL, FL
, GA, SC, NC = 235.

Side note: the website is great for playing around with possible Electoral College results and predictions and it does the math for you. 

A quick reaction to the debate …


Watched it on CNN, with the dial people:

—women generally preferred Obama, which is not a surprise. If women vote in the same numbers as they did in 2008, Obama is going to win.

—neither men nor women liked negative, anti-the-other comments.

—it seemed to me that in general, the dials were more positive for Obama than for Romney, and for longer periods of time. What that means, of course, is yet to be seen.

—most of the questions seemed framed in a way that suggested the questioner — or Candy Crowley, for picking the question — was asking the challenger (Romney) to defend his position more often than the incumbent (Obama) was asked to defend his.

—all that matters now is the spin. Did the Obama-is-in-trouble narrative change, or not? I think it will, but I don’t run the media.

On Republican Math


By now, many of you may have seen the stories indicating that Republican activists—like all partisans when their candidate is behind—are urging people not to believe the polls. Instead, we are to believe that the candidate’s internal polls show him to be tied or ahead.

The particular twist that the folks at FOX News and the Romney campaign are putting on this claim is that the “likely voter” models being used by mainstream polling firms are skewed towards the Democrats.

This, as it happens, is quite possible: many people don’t understand that the reports of “who’s ahead” and “who’s behind” that so dominate the news are not, in fact, simple reports of percentages in a sample. Instead, they are estimates massaged from the data. Pollsters look at the data and then add “weight” for the opinions of those deemed “likely to vote” while discounting the opinions of those deemed “not likely to vote.” Such weighting is particularly common if the sample was overrepresented or underrepresented by any important group: if the sample has too many college students by overall percentage of the population, for example, pollsters will unweight their opinion in the likely voter model derived from that sample because college students vote at lower rates than does the general population.

The thing is, almost every likely voter model ever built is weighted in a way that overestimates votes for Republican candidates rather than underestimates it. This is because the kinds of people who tend to vote in higher numbers — white people, college educated, middle class, etc, — tend to be people who vote Republican. By contrast, groups that tend to vote Democratic — minorities, less educated, less well off — tend to vote at lower rates. Thus pollsters, trying to predict the final vote, overrepresent white, college educated middle class people in their estimates while underrepresenting others.

(As an aside, it was just this issue that stopped me watching CNN in 2000: their likely voter model was so skewed towards Bush I couldn’t stand it. I only watch CNN for coverage of emergencies now … although their election night data is really good.)

So is it possible that all the mainstream pollsters have built likely voter models that advantage Democrats? Sure it is is. Have they?

It’s not very likely.

Why Mitt is Losing


So let me offer some general ruminations on why Mitt Romney is losing his race for the presidency despite the structural problems, like long-term high unemployment rates, with President Obama’s re-election bid.

1. Incumbency. The simple fact is that most presidents who seek reelection win reelection. Since 1900, only five presidents who who sought reelection lost in their reelection bids: Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter and Bush I. The other twelve won.

Incumbency is a powerful advantage. Presidents get Air Force One and “Hail to the Chief” and the ability to shape the media narrative on a daily basis. Challengers don’t. That doesn’t mean challengers can’t win. It just means it’s hard.

2. Radical ideology. One ironic side effect of the 2010 Congressional elections was that they further deepened the national Republican party’s shift to the conservative and ultraconservative wings of their party. This strategy worked in 2010, when it was easier to convince voters that Obama was a radical lefty and things were getting worse … and when turnout was quite low, favoring motivated radicals (e.g., the tea party). Presidential elections, however, are elections with much bigger turnout, which tends to mitigate the power of radicals.

In taking the ideological stands he took to win the nomination, Romney alienated himself from lots of more moderate voters—an alienation he has not been able to overcome (see point 3 below). The irony is that “Massachusetts Mitt” might have had a much easier time beating Obama … but would have had a harder time winning the nomination.

3. The flip flop problem. Conventional wisdom says that candidates move to the center in the general election campaign. However, Romney has changed positions so many times in the past that, in a desperate effort to both appeal to conservatives and moderates, his campaign has tried to say … well, nothing more than “I’m not Obama.” “I’m not Obama” does not require firm statements that would either reinforce Romney’s conservatism (and thereby alienate moderates) or appeal to moderates (thus reinforcing his image as a flip flopper).

This strategy is failing. It might have worked against “empty chair Obama,” the socialist leading America over a fiscal cliff into an Islamist future, but it doesn’t work against real Obama, who is president over a slowly recovering America and who regularly flexes US military muscle (often in violation of international law) to achieve American foreign policy goals. “I’m not Obama” isn’t enough when people don’t hate Obama … but it’s all Romney can offer since otherwise he alienates one wing of his party or the other.

4. The likability problem. I’ve posted before on this point, but it is simply the case that Romney is not a natural politician. He is an immensely talented man in his field, but he is stiff and comes across badly on TV … which is the means through which we learn about candidates these days. It is his misfortune to be running against one of the most telegenic and charismatic politicians of the recent past (with Reagan and Clinton as Obama’s obvious competitors for the title). Hence even people who don’t think Obama is all that great a president (Politicalprof among them) still prefer Obama as a person to Romney.

All of this is hard to overcome: an okay candidate who is likable, appealing, fairly temperate and President of the United States is at a marked advantage in any contest with a not particularly likable, indecipherable person associated with lots of radicals who is NOT the president.

Romney could have won this election. There’s a route or two available by which he may yet win. But the path is getting narrower, and I see no reason to believe that Romney has the skill set to recognize the appropriate track and maneuver onto it. The Romney campaign is indeed very bad, as Peggy Noonan has recently noted. Me, I’d call it epically bad.

It’s quite a thing.

The explanation is worse than the comment …


By now, pretty much everybody knows about Mitt Romney’s thoughtless, mean, and utterly misbegotten comments about the 47% of Americans who are apparently dependent on government handouts for survival, and the rest of Americans, who pay income taxes and carry the freeloaders. This statement is twaddle, as many others — including NY Times columnist and semi-conservative David Brooks — have pointed out. I don’t have much to add to the good work they’ve done in taking Mitt Romney’s statement apart.

What has gotten much less attention is Mitt Romney’s explanation of his comments. This explanation, I think, is actually much, much worse than the original statement itself.

In a late night news conference—the kind likely to be missed by almost everybody—Romney explained his 47% comment this way: “It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I’m sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.”

Pay attention here. Much like his statement on Sandra Fluke, that he wouldn’t have used Rush Limbaugh’s vile words in criticizing her, all Mitt Romney has done here is said he could have worded his comments better. He is basically saying that he believes every word he said. It’s just that since he was in a fundraiser and was in the question and answer period, he wasn’t scripted and obfuscatory as he would have been on the campaign trail.

In other words, it’s what he believes. It’s just not something he would have said had he thought about it more clearly.

One is, of course, entitled to vote for Mitt Romney if you share this belief. One is entitled to vote against him if one doesn’t. But you ought to know that it’s what he believes.

Even if he wishes he hadn’t told you.

The Circling Sharks


The sharks have started to circle.

In this play, the role of the sharks are taken by the conservative punditocracy—those commentators who have pushed the Republican Party to be ever-more vigilant in expressing and defending conservative principles. “AMERICA IS A CONSERVATIVE COUNTRY!” they regularly intone. “BE CONSERVATIVE OR GO HOME.”

Now, however, they seem less sure. As Ross Douthat noted in his NY Times column today, many conservative talking heads are beginning to complain about what they see as an impending Romney loss. George Will, for example, stated: “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics.” FOX talking head Laura Ingraham commented, “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” The American right’s pet academic Britisher, Niall Ferguson, insisted that Obama’s success and Romney’s failure meant “the law of political gravity has been suspended.”

There’s something important going on here: the pundits are working hard to shift the blame for Romney’s seeming inevitable loss.

In the pundits’ growing narrative, their side’s probable loss in 2012 is a result of Romney’s flaws and the party’s incompetence. It’s the result of the failure to be conservative enough. It’s the result of the American people being taken in by Obama’s hypnotic spell.

In other words, IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT.

There’s much wrong in the pundits’ narrative, of course. As it happens, they’re wrong on the nature of American public opinion: Americans are indeed conservative on taxes, but they love government programs like Social Security and Medicare and the military. They’re wrong on Obama’s record, which is much stronger than they imagine it to be.

More, the pundits have conveniently forgotten that the party tossed up an array of nominees to challenge Romney, each seeming more flawed than the one before: the politically damaged Newt Gingrich; the personality challenged Tim Pawlenty; the anti-Republican Ron Paul; the high flying but inexperienced businessman Herman Cain; the right wing red meat of Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and even befuddled Rick Perry. Romney was the only one with the organization and the money to stagger through—with little help from a punditocracy that didn’t really like him.

Still and all, one of the advantages of buying news ink by the barrel (or driving hits to your website) is that once the campaign ends, the pundits will “explain” the loss—and, magically, it won’t be their fault. 


The Day Mitt Romney Told The Truth


Mark it down: it was September 7, 2012.

The truth in question was an answer to the query, on that paragon of hard news, FOX, Why didn’t you talk about the troops in your nomination acceptance address? Romney’s answer was plain, real, and astonishing:

When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important and I described in my speech, my commitment to a strong military unlike the president’s decision to cut our military. And I didn’t use the word troops, I used the word military. I think they refer to the same thing.

Here’s the thing: “the troops” and “the military” are as different from each other as corporations are from actual people. That Romney thinks “the military” is the same as “the troops” betrays his vision that organizations are living beings that somehow or another work without worrying how the pieces of the institution function.

Let me illustrate my point this way. When one thinks of “the military,” one thinks of the jobs the military is designed to do. One thinks of making sure that “the military” has the equipment and money and training and personnel it needs to achieve its tasks. One thinks of making sure the military machine can function effectively as it does its work.

Don’t get me wrong: these are all important things to think about. As long as we have a military, we as a society have an obligation and an interest in making sure it is effective and efficient. This is a consequence of the choice to be a superpower.

But it’s not thinking about “the troops.”

When one thinks of “the troops,” one thinks of parents separated from spouses and children for multiple deployments. One thinks of physically and psychically wounded people struggling to make a new life for themselves. One thinks of the transition to civilian life and the need to support servicemen and women for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what you don’t think about if you really think about “the troops”:

  • You don’t complain that we got out of Iraq and threaten a war with Iran without considering the lives and capacities of the men and women you expect to go do those things, and without knowing how to win both the war and the peace.
  • You don’t cut subsidies for school districts in towns with military bases like George Bush did. (Since WWII, the US has provided additional funds to towns with military bases in them to subsidize the education of the soldiers’ kids whose parents live on base, and so don’t pay local property taxes, but whose kids are educated in the local community. Bush cut those funds out.)
  • You don’t charge soldiers for rooms with air conditioning when they are wounded, as George Bush’s administration did.
  • You don’t treat wounded National Guards men and women in substandard, lesser hospitals and facilities as happened in the Bush administration.
  • You don’t imagine endless wars and endless deployments in search of a “victory” you can never define, much less reach.

Romney told the truth to FOX News on September 7, 2012. Mark the day. He cares deeply about the military.

He just doesn’t think the troops are important.

A Democratic Spine?


For most of the last 30 years, Democrats have been on the run.

Ever since the Reagan Revolution overwhelmed them — 525-13 in the 1984 electoral college vote; 58 new House members in the 1980 election — Democrats have been running away from the principles and programs that drove them to create the New Deal and the Great Society. Democrats have tried to become the party of “kind cruelty”: the Democrats promised to screw the poor and the vulnerable slightly less than the Republicans would.

As a practical matter, what this has meant is that political campaigns over the last 30 years have mostly been fought on Republican terms. Budgets, social welfare cuts, and strong-on-defense have been the dominant themes of the era. 9/11 and Bill Clinton’s wandering eye put the Democrats back on their heels, afraid to advance any program unless they offset their proposals with equivalent budget cuts. They played “small ball” and hoped the Republicans wouldn’t hurt them too badly.

In response, and entirely appropriately under the rules of politics, the Republicans went for the jugular. They saw an opportunity to remake the politics of the era largely unchallenged by an “opposition” party. They raised defense spending, promoted the national security state, and pushed legislation to make it difficult to unionize but easy to pass wealth across generations. All the while, it should be added, cutting taxes in ways that dramatically favored the wealthiest Americans.

But there was more to it than policy. The Republicans practiced culture war, too. Democrats became tax and spenders who wanted to give poor people all the money from hard working people, all so they and anyone else who wanted one could have an abortion. Meanwhile, the supposedly effete liberals who ran the party were alleged to care more about making the French happy and undermining “real” America in support of gays and minorities than doing what was best for America. Trust me: “death panels” was just one more in a long string of Republican efforts to marginalize the Democratic Party as dangerous and untrustworthy.

And who knows? If Bush hadn’t gone to Iraq, it all might have worked.

The last straw in this political game may well have been the election of 2010. Democrats appear to have realized that their efforts to compromise over health care, and the budget, and social programs and everything else in political life actually cost them votes and power. (To be fair, Republicans would argue that Democrats’ “compromises” weren’t real compromises.)  From the Democrats’ point of view, being nice, being afraid to embrace their principles, and fighting on Republicans’ terms simply didn’t work.

Now they appear to have changed their tune. They seem to have embraced “Obamacare” and gays in the military and women’s right to choose, all while embracing a muscular foreign policy and free market economics. The basic spirit seems to be, “this is what we stand for. If you like it, vote for us. If not, don’t.”

What’s been interesting about this is that is seems to have surprised the Republicans. The Republicans seem to be playing from the “old” playbook of “scary Democrats.” But this time, rather than cringing, the Democrats seem to be embracing the ideas and attitudes that they were once pummeled with.

Who knows if this will work. Who knows if it will last more than a few weeks, or even more than one election cycle. But it is quite a change. And while I certainly don’t like everything the Democratic Party advocates, I can say I like the forthright approach. At least I — and all the rest of us — will know what we’re voting for or against.

And that is something to celebrate.

The “This Time Is Different” Exception


So in response to a snarky post I made on Sunday, asking whether tea party loving, federal government hating Florida Governor Rick Scott would violate his ideology and ask for federal disaster aid after Hurricane Isaac comes to shore in the next few days, one of my respondents insisted that whatever his ideology, it’s okay for Scott to ask for federal money in a crisis.

The person’s logic was simple. Current taxes and law mean that the federal government collects money for emergency management and other scenarios. Accordingly, when crises occur, it’s only the federal government that has the funds to respond. However, this person imagined that the law would be changed in the future and Florida could tax its residents for such purposes by itself. No federal government would be needed.

At least three things are wrong about this.

1. The respondent appears not to understand that Florida today is a major net recipient of federal tax receipts. Between its many military bases and the large number of retired people receiving Medicare and Social Security who live there, the citizens of Florida receive far more money from federal tax receipts than Floridians pay to the federal government. (Illinois, where I Iive, is by contrast a net donor state: we pay more federal taxes than our citizens receive.) Florida is subsidized by the rest of the United States. Without federal money today, even without the hurricane, Florida would sink financially.

2. The notion that Florida could create a future tax system that would allow it to be effectively self-financed for hurricanes runs afoul of simple math. Lots and lots of federal tax recipients in Florida — the elderly who are on Medicare and Social Security —  are on tight, fixed incomes. The idea that you could and tax your way to financial independence when millions of your citizens have limited incomes is silly. This might—might!—work if Florida was allowed to seal its borders and no longer allow older, poorer people to move to its humid swamps … but so far we haven’t ever allowed a state to close its borders to citizens from other states. And even then Florida would lose all the SS and Medicare money those citizens currently get and spend in Florida. (Full disclosure: Politicalprof was born in Florida but got out as a small child.)

3. Most of all, the idea runs afoul of the notion of the United States as such. The whole point of having a country is that the country can pool its resources for a variety of purposes and ends. Florida takes a disproportionate share of the military bases and retired people … so the federal government takes taxes from people in the rest of the United States and send it to people in Florida. (Much the same thing happens in Arizona.) Cities on average are net contributors to federal tax receipts and subsidize the farmers whose food people in cities eat. It simply doesn’t make any sense to act like the United States is 50 different countries — the Duchy of Florida, the Canton of Illinois — that have to go it alone. It’s called the United States for a reason.

I guess people don’t know this stuff. It seems to me that they should.

Elite Follies and the Prospects for Democratic Debate


Another reblog request … sorry for the repeats …

Recently, I was asked:

In a recent post, you talked about campaigns selling us “movie presidents” because that is what we demand. What do you think it will take for Americans to stop being content with this lie and demand a real debate?

My response follows:

Most Americans don’t give a flip about politics. They, and for that matter many of those who have a passing attention to politics as well, manifest two attitudes that undermine any prospect for a real debate about politics: faith that “they” will take care of things; and faith that “common sense” is the answer to most social and political problems. Ipso facto, just get “common sense” people in office, and all will be well.

This is nothing new. The default condition of most Americans for most of American history has been limited or no information about politics, international relations, economics, or any of the other myriad issues that go on in American life. Nor, frankly, is it particularly in their interest to develop such attitudes and knowledge: they have kids to feed and jobs (hopefully) to do … they aren’t to be expected to be political experts.

What’s changed in the last 50 years is the reemergence of anti-intellectual and nativist elites, largely but by no means wholly found in the Republican Party. These elites fan the flames of anti-science, anti-immigrant and other sentiments and insist on fealty to silly principles (no tax increases ever, no mater what!; just toss ‘em out and build a wall!; science is trumped by snow!) that then become dogma for a generation or more.

I don’t mean, by the way, to suggest prior generations of elites were great or good or wonderful. They promoted slavery and anti-semitism and Jim Crow and gender and other forms of discrimination all in their time. I just mean to say that so long as elites are being stupid and foolish, it is too much to expect ordinary people living their complex and involved lives to be political scholars.

We are living through remarkably stupid times, where complexity and nuance is mocked, humiliated and shouted down in a cacophony of political attacks, blog comments, media commentary and snarky internet memes. And if it is the case that only the absurd can rule the insane, perhaps only madmen can rule the stupid.

And we sure have a lot of madmen out there, don’t we?

Page 1 of 3