Monday, November 5, 2012

America the Ungovernable?

Americans will soon go to the polls and elect their next president.  By the time you read this the outcome may already be known.  Regardless of whether the next president is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama one has to ask if the nation has reached a stage where it is longer governable?

Over the past decade and a half America's two premier political parties have moved steadily farther apart.  Some have argued that they have, in fact, come to resemble Europe's parliamentary parties.  In most parliamentary systems party unity is more important than the actual policy choices elected leaders make.  In a system where the majority party in parliament controls all the levers of government unity is of tantamount importance.  Defections from the majority can bring down a government.  However, in a constitutional system where the creation of policy often requires cooperation between the majority and the minority parties, partisan unity can bring governance to a standstill.  It seems that is where we are at this point in time.  Consider the following:

  • Since 1995 the number of filibusters in the U.S. Senate has increased exponentially and in the past four years more filibusters or filibuster threats have been enacted than in the preceeding 200 years.
  • The House has passed a budget resolution in each of the past two years solely along party lines and the Senate has refused to even consider it.
  • Neither chamber has given serious consideration to the president's budget proposals in the past three years.  
  • Pitched battles are waged over issues that both parties have previously supported, such as the individual mandate for healthcare (originally a conservative idea promoted by the Heritage Foundation), stimulus spending to boost the economy (both parties have a long history of embracing it), and many others.
  • The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has to disavow his signature accomplishment (Romneycare), which served as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  
No matter who America elects as its next president, he is likely to preside over a system that may well be ungovernable.  Much as the Republicans committed themselves to refusing to work with Barack Obama after his election in 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already declared that Senate Democrats will stand united against Mitt Romney in the event he wins the presidency.  

America the ungovernable?  Perhaps that should be our new national anthem.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

October Presidential Forecast

In just ten days Americans will select the man they want to be their next president.  Will President Obama be reelected to serve a second term?  Will America decide to fire its president and pin its hopes for the next four years on former Massachusetts Governor Willard 'Mitt' Romney?  The prognosticators, pollsters, and pundits are all over the map.  Both men have a decent chance of winning the popular vote, though in our system that doesn't matter since the winner is determined by electoral votes, not popular votes.  In all but four presidential elections the popular vote and the electoral vote have selected the same individual.  Could this be the fifth time in history that we see a divergence between the electoral college and the popular vote?  The last time was in 2000 when Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote by about half a million over Texas Gov. George W. Bush.  Gov. Bush, however, captured the electoral vote 271-266 after several recounts and a pitched court battle finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 35 days after the election.  It is entirely within the realm of possibility that we may see such a scenario unfold again in 2012.  I can only wonder if those who were so thankful for the Electoral College in 2000 will be as thankful this time around if their candidate is on the losing side of the vote.

Having said that, there are a few possible outcomes to this year's presidential race. They are as follows:

An Electoral College Deadlock:  The Dreaded 269-269 Scenario

While highly improbable, there is a slight chance this scenario could occur.  It happened in the Election of 1800 when both Thomas Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes.  The system in place then required each elector to cast two ballots for president and it was customary for one elector to vote for someone other than their preferred candidate's running mate, thus ensuring a majority for a single candidate.  But in this election, all Jefferson electors also voted for Aaron Burr, which created a tie that was eventually settled by the House of Representatives shortly before inauguration day.  It took more than 30 rounds of voting by the House before a deal was brokered, however, and Mr. Jefferson was officially selected as the nation's 3rd president.  Could such a scenario occur in 2012?  Yes, but not in the same way as in 1800 because the 12th amendment modified the way electoral votes are cast.  Electors now vote separately for president and vice president instead of casting two ballots for president.  In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives chooses the president with each state delegation receiving a single vote.  This would almost certainly result in the selection of Gov. Romney as the 45th President of the United States because Republicans control more House delegations than Democrats and likely will do so in the next Congress as well.  The choice of vice president would be left to the Senate, which would most likely select current vice president Joe Biden because Democrats control the Senate and are projected to maintain control of the chamber in the next Congress.  How likely is this scenario to occur?  Very unlikely.  Based on an analysis by the website 270 to win, the LA Times has a good recap of what might happen in this rare instance.  

Gov. Romney wins the Electoral College while losing the popular vote

Given the nature of the polling process, the dynamics of the Electoral College, and a host of other factors, this scenario also seems quite low on the probability list.  Yet, it could happen if President Obama's margins in the popular vote in states that favor him are sufficiently large.  This seems extremely unlikely because there are no states that Obama will carry the popular vote by 30 or more percentage points like there are for Romney (Oklahoma anybody?).  Of course, very few people live in the rural states where Romney will build up huge popular vote margins so they'll likely be offset by Obama's popular vote margin in California and Illinois.  To win the Electoral College the governor will need to carry the popular vote in many of the swing states.  As such, if Governor Romney wins the Electoral College he likely will win the popular vote as well.

The current polling data has Gov. Romney with a base of 191 electoral votes in states where he is polling at least 50%.    This leaves him needing some combination of swing states adding up to 79 electoral votes to reach the magic number of 270.  According to Real Clear Politics, Gov. Romney currently holds a 1-3 point lead among likely voters in most national polls.  Though I am somewhat suspicious of the likely voter screens developed by the various polling organizations this year as they seem to diverge a little too much from the registered voter polls, I think the governor has an advantage in the popular vote right now.  Research indicates that likely voter models may eliminate up to 23% of respondents who actually do cast votes in elections, so the advantage may not be as large as some polls are indicating. Getting the requisite 79 electoral votes necessary to capture the presidency means Gov. Romney needs to win Florida (29 votes), North Carolina (15 votes), Virginia (13 votes) plus some combination of swing states adding up to an additional 22 electoral votes.  The quickest path would be to capture Ohio (18 votes) and New Hampshire (4 votes), though polls in both states give President Obama an advantage in each.  Failing to win those two states, Romney would have to win three states from among Nevada (6 votes), Colorado (9 votes), Iowa (6 votes), and Wisconsin (10 votes).  Of these, he seems least likely to win Wisconsin and Nevada.  For these reasons I would rate the chances of Romney winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote as slim.  If Romney is elected as the 45th President of the United States it will be with a narrow victory in the Electoral College and the popular vote.

President Obama wins both the Electoral College and the popular vote

President Obama begins with a built-in advantage in the Electoral College as more states with more votes lean Democratic than lean Republican.  Republicans have the advantage in large, empty space states while Democrats enjoy the advantage in the densely packed urban states.  According to 270 to win, Obama begins with an electoral vote base of 217.  I would add Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes to that total since no reliable polls have shown Gov. Romney with a lead there.  That puts the president at 237 and needing just 33 electoral votes to secure a 2nd term.  Obama can accomplish this by winning just three states (Ohio (18 votes), Wisconsin (10 votes), and either Iowa (6 votes) or Nevada (6 votes).  Recent polls show the president with a lead in each of these states.  Interestingly, the tie scenario rears its ugly head if Obama were to carry only Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire (4 votes), though I think it highly unlikely to occur.

Obama wins the Electoral College but loses the popular vote
 
There is a better chance that Obama will lose the popular vote while still winning the electoral vote than there is for Gov. Romney to do that but I think the likelihood is still miniscule.  Obama's popular vote margins in the states where he leads are likely to overcome Gov. Romney's totals barring an unforeseen wave breaking against the president in the final days of the election.  As shown above, the aggregate of the polls seems to indicate that whoever wins the popular vote will also win the Electoral College. 

And the winner will be....

Given the scenarios above, I think the electoral college advantage for the president may simply be too much for Governor Romney to overcome.  It is possible, but not probable at this point.  There are still 10 days to go until election day, though millions of Americans have already voted.  So far, 915,000 ads have aired during this campaign and more than $2 billion has been spent seeking the presidency.  As I stated last month, the race is pretty much exactly where it was in March.  As I did then, I think the president will eke out a narrow win in the popular vote and an electoral vote victory somewhere around 290 to 248.  As such, he will have no mandate to govern (nor would Romney if he were to win).  All in all, the next four years are likely to look pretty much like the last four years. 

As usual, I reserve the right to update this projection if new information or developments appear to be poised for a significant impact on the outcome November 6th. 







 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Amazing (status-quo) Race

The media dogs have been salivating for more than a week over the 'secret' videotape released by Mother Jones on September 17th showing Mitt Romney disparaging the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income taxes as 'victims' who are 'dependent upon government' and will support President Obama's reelection effort.  Never mind that 40% of those freeloading moochers are Republicans, among them low income senior citizens, hard working, low wage workers, and valiant members of the U.S. military who put their lives on the line for all of each and every day.  Never mind that more than 7,000 of those 47% are millionaires.  No, none of that really matters.  The statements by Romney mean one of two things:  1)  Either it reflects his deeply held belief about people who vote for Democrats, in which case he's dead wrong, or; 2)  It reflects the thinking of the millionaires he was appealing to for money, in which case he was simply doing what politicians do, pandering for money by telling an audience what they want to hear.  In either case it is offensive but I'd like to think Gov. Romney was simply being a crass politician rather than an ideological idiot.

But, the bigger question is whether or not Romney's statement and subsequent scurrying to lessen the blow of the video will have any measurable effect on his share of the vote on November 6th.  At this stage of the race I estimate that it might cost him a few votes among swing voters in some states.  It is possible that the loss of those swing voters will be offset by Republicans and Republican leaners who are more likely to vote for him as a result, but that is far from certain.  There is no state level evidence of any shift yet but there is some evidence of this from a new Gallup Poll showing that 44% of Republicans say they are more likely to vote for Romney in the wake of his comments than before the comments.  Not that they were Obama supporters previously but more likely lukewarm towards Romney.  Meanwhile, 29% of independents say they're less likely to vote for Romney as a result while 15% say they're more likely to vote for him, a net change of 14%.  In a close election, that shift could be devastating.  However, unless Romney doubles down on the comment it is likely to be all but forgotten by Election Day, though don't be surprised when it reappears in the debates next month.

Presidential Polling Aggregate--Six Weeks Out

The chart below reflects the latest national polls from reputable polling organizations.  The polling data consistently shows the president with a lead in nearly every poll conducted since the Democratic National Convention.  Some of this is likely due to convention bounce, though that typically fades away 2-3 weeks after the conventions so the polls reflect the actual state of the race.  Yet, the presidency is not determined by the nationwide popular vote so these should be taken with a grain of salt.  For a deeper state by state analysis see Nate Silver's 538 blog.  As of today, the president is a 78% favorite to win a 2nd term according to Silver's model forecast.  That's a tad bit higher than Intrade, the internet trading site that allows the purchase or sale of 'shares' predicting the outcome of many events.  President Obama is currently a 72.7% favorite among the speculators there.


The truly amazing thing about this chart is that neither candidate has moved the polling numbers much since March.  The first poll in the dataset is an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama at 50% and Romney at 44%.  The last poll is an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released September 17th placing Obama at 50% and Romney at 45%.  Six months of campaigning, mudslinging, seizing on out of context statements, and two party conventions has left the race pretty much exactly where it was in March.  Will the next six weeks be any different?

Friday, September 7, 2012

RNC & DNC Wrapup

Now that the party conventions have ended its a good time to wrap-up what took place in Tampa and Charlotte over the past eleven days.  Since the Republicans went first we'll start with their convention.

The Republican National Convention

The Good: 

  • Romney, human being: 
    • The Republican Convention set out to portray the real Mitt Romney to his party.  The Romney who has a heart and cares for people, not the Romney image crafted by the Democrats all summer (and to some extent by the Republican primary challengers last spring).  In that sense, Republicans did a fairly good job and I have no doubt that Romney is a decent family man who loves his wife and children.  I have no doubt he loves his church and has done a lot of good for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.  Republicans successfully painted their candidate as a warm, funny guy.  That's a positive for the campaign.  Grade:  B+
  • Marco Rubio: 
    • Possibly the best speech of the convention hands down.  Rubio came across as smart, funny, and likable.  It's easy to see why he bested Charlie Crist in the Florida Senate contest in 2010 and why he is considered a rising star in the GOP.  Rubio represents a demographic in America that is rapidly expanding and that the GOP must embrace if it is to survive as a serious party beyond this decade. Rubio is eloquent and avoided the sharp partisan rhetoric that was present in several other speeches and may one day carry the GOP banner himself if he plays his cards right.  Grade: A+
The Bad:
  • Paul Ryan:
    • Ryan was ostensibly chosen to be Romney's running mate because of his policy knowledge and strict conservative credentials.  But his speech to the delegates was rife with factual errors, false accusations leveled against the president, and nothing resembling serious policy proposals.  Even Fox News reported that Ryan's speech was deceptive, if not downright untrue.  Grade:  C-
  • Mitt Romney:
    • Romney addressed the delegates and the nation with perhaps the most bland acceptance speech in recent history.  He repeated many of the same tired lines we've heard all summer and for the past four years.  He promised tax cuts and a balanced budget, increased defense spending, and ensuring the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, all at the same time. He promised to create 12 million new jobs in four years, which works out to 250,000 a month.  That's about 100,000 more than the economy has averaged over the past 29 months.  Yet, Romney provided no details on how he would accomplish this.  Overall, it was a dull acceptance speech given by a candidate looking to avoid mistakes, not one given by a candidate looking to convince undecided Americans a reason to vote for him.  Grade:  C-
The Ugly: (You knew it was coming)
  • Clint Eastwood:
  • George W. Bush:  
    • Where was the last Republican president?  Parties who are proud of their accomplishments in office almost always bring back living ex-presidents to address their conventions.  It was almost as if the Republicans had disowned Bush while telling America we need to go back to his policies.  Bizarre.  Grade:  F
Overall, the Republicans had a decent, if less than memorable convention (apart from Eastwood).  In a tight race for the presidency it's not what they needed.  The Republicans needed to give Americans a reason to fire their president.  Americans might still do that but what happened in Tampa last week won't have anything to do with that if it happens.  

The Democratic National Convention


Highs:  

  • Michelle Obama:
    • Michelle had one job at the convention and she did it better than anyone else could have.  Her sole task was to provide an inside look at Barack Obama the father, husband, and man who is fighting for average Americans every day.  Contrast that with the Obama Republicans have tried to portray as an angry black man who wants to create a nation where every American is a ward of the state.  Grade:  A+
  • Bill Clinton:
    • Let's face it, nobody can deliver a speech that holds the audience's attention quite like the 'Big Dog' can.  Whether one agrees or disagrees, Bubba is an eloquent speaker who can break down difficult policy details into sweet, tasty morsels for an audience.  President Clinton assumed the role of defender of the Obama Presidency and attack dog.  He took a big bite out of the seat of Romney's pants and held on tight.  Even Republican strategist Alex Castellanos (creator of the Willie Horton ad for George H.W. Bush) commented after the speech that it was the 'moment that reelected Barack Obama'.  While I highly doubt that, it was a very good speech with no blatantly false statements, though a few that were designed to portray the Obama Presidency in the best possible light by cherry picking data, such as the arbitrary February 2010 date to start counting job creation.  Grade:  A
  • Joe Biden:
    • Biden's acceptance speech was perhaps the best speech of his life.  He not only defended the administration's record, he spoke of the Barack Obama he knows and loves.  He recapped the decision to take out Osama bin Laden and the support for GM and repeated the quip 'General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead!' with vigor.  Biden avoided making his typical gaffes and was well-received by the delegates.  Grade:  A-
Mediocre:
  • Barack Obama:
    • The president's address was more of the same thing we have heard for the past four years.  There was nothing new in it and it was just an appeal to Democratic supporters (and perhaps some swing voters) to stay the course and allow the foundation of a solid recovery that has been built over the past few years to take root and blossom.  It was an appeal not to return to the policies of the last decade.  The high point was the salute to the troops (notably missing from the RNC and Romney's speech) and taking ownership of foreign policy.  For the first time in my life the Democrats seem to be the stronger party on foreign affairs.  The best line:  'Feel a cold coming on?  Take two tax cuts and rollback a few regulations and call me in the morning.'  Was the speech enough to change any minds?  Probably not.  But it also did not work against the president.  Grade:  C+
Lows:
  • Democrats booing the platform amendment inserting God
    • It was ridiculous and pandering that they even had to take this vote.  God does not belong in party platforms and He certainly doesn't endorse partisan politics.  Nonsense like this detracts from serious discussions and dealing with real problems.  The delegates and the chair should be ashamed of this entire fiasco.  Grade:  F
Overall, the DNC will probably not change anybody's mind about who to vote for in November, though it may energize Democrats and lead to higher turnout.  In that sense, it is a win for the party.  In my final assessment I agree with Republican Joe Scarborough who wrote:
But while Obama said nothing new, he said it much better than when Gov. Romney said nothing in Tampa. And you could tell by the boisterous reaction of Democratic delegates who left the arena Thursday night looking fired up and ready to go. Maybe there seemed to be such a disparity between the two conventions because the Republican Party has never been the least bit excited about its nominee. Or maybe it’s because Democrats were simply blessed with a deeper bench of political athletes in 2012. But whatever the reason, Republicans were lapped by their rivals and may ultimately pay in November for botching Mitt Romney’s debut.
Will the conventions matter?  Perhaps more than we political scientists think but less than the politicians turned pundits think.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why Romney Should Win but May Not

By now it is pretty clear that Mitt Romney should be destroying President Barack Obama in the polls as America heads for the 2012 Presidential Election.  Yet, most polls show President Obama with a lead of a few points or the two candidates locked in a statistical deadheat.  The virtual tie in the polls can be attributed to the fact that most voters have already made up their minds and will not change them over the final three months of the campaign.  That means the 2012 Presidential Election will be won by whichever candidate does the best job of courting the 'undecideds.'  Note, I did not say 'independents.'  Why not?  First, because they are a very small group of voters like myself.  The majority of so-called independents are actually what scholars refer to as 'weak-partisans' or 'partisan-leaners.'  In the end, they almost always vote for the party they lean towards.  In 2008, fewer than 10% of voters reached a decision in the final week of the campaign.  We call these voters 'late deciders' and in 2008 their vote was split almost evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain even though economic conditions were very unfavorable for Senator McCain.  A very similar pattern occurred in the 2004 Presidential Election among late deciders.  There is no reason to believe the pattern will be much different in 2012.  The bottom line is that late deciders and independents are unlikely to decide the outcome of this election.  Rather, it will be turnout by the base of each party that will determine the ultimate victor.  Based upon this, President Obama has reason to be concerned about is chances for reelection as recent polls have indicated that Republicans are a little more enthusiastic about the election than Democrats are right now.  But that's not the president's biggest problem.

It's The Economy, Stupid!

Those four famous words written on a whiteboard in the war room of the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992 reverberate throughout American politics.  At least that's the conventional wisdom and what the Romney campaign is hoping rings true in 2012.  Like it or not, President Obama has to face the fact that nearly four years after being elected he is presiding over a tepid economy experiencing weak growth and high unemployment.  The most recent figures released by the government show economic growth occurred in the 2nd quarter at a meager 1.5% rate while unemployment ticked up from 8.2% to 8.3%.  As Political Scientist James Campbell argues, those numbers do not bode well for the president's reelection bid.  Further, a recent analysis on Political Math showed President Obama last among all presidents in job creation since 1969, based on reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Of course, as everyone with half a brain knows (which excludes most politicians of both parties as well as most ideologically driven individuals), presidents neither create nor destroy jobs.  They merely benefit from good economic cycles or suffer the consequences of bad ones.  Recessions result from natural fluctuations in the business cycle and government is virtually powerless to prevent them.  If you need evidence of this just look at 2007-09 and all the manipulations done by the Federal Reserve Bank and the tax cuts/economic stimulus packages enacted in 2008 and 2009.  The economy still plunged into the deepest recession since the 1930's.  At best, all the government efforts simply alleviated the suffering and made the bottom of the great recession slightly shallower than it would otherwise have been.  The CBO estimates that between 1.5 million and 3 million jobs were saved by government action in 2009.  Imagine what the president's record on job creation would look like without without those jobs!  Which brings me back to the point...job creation.  

As the author of the Political Math piece points out, President Obama is fond of pointing out the number of jobs created from a certain date, usually the low water mark of the recession.  That's both fair and unfair at the same time.  How so?  It's fair because a new president cannot and should not be held accountable for trends in job growth/loss early in their term(s).  He is inheriting the situation left behind by his predecessor, which in President Obama's case was an economy shedding 700,000 jobs a month. However, allowing the president to cherry pick a starting date for when he will take credit for job growth is unfair because he can then choose the dates most beneficial to himself.  In an effort to standardize the analysis of job growth by president I created a graph showing total job creation/loss using two metrics.  The first metric attributes job losses/gains during the first six months of a new administration to the previous administration, while the second metric excludes job growth/loss for the entire first year of a new administration.  The logical explanation is that a president should not receive credit (or blame) for the economic situation left behind by his predecessor.  Here's what the data looks like:


Using either of these metrics doesn't make the case for President Obama much better, although it shows larger net job growth than if we began counting the day he assumed the presidency, which is the way most partisan opponents of the president like to do.  My point here is not to make the case for President Obama but to draw attention to the fact that job growth in the United States has been anemic for more than a decade.  Also, when we look at the data, we see that job growth declined substantially on the heels of the two most recent economic expansions which took place from 1983-1989 and 1993-2000.  We also can see that by either metric President George W. Bush is the only president in the last 40 years to preside over a net loss of jobs, though he should not be held accountable for job losses that occurred as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the recession that followed.  Though the economy was already in recession by September of 2001 it is almost certain that the terrorist attacks prolonged the recession.  Excluding job losses from September 2001 to May 2002 boosts President George W. Bush to a net gain for his presidency of 38,000 jobs when the first six months are also excluded and reduces his net job loss when the first year is excluded to just over 1 million. 

The data also shows us that President Obama's tenure compares favorably with that of President George H.W. Bush, using either of the two metrics.  In fact, their numbers are remarkably similar, although Obama's only include seven months of data for 2012.  Barring another recession and continued mediocre job growth, President Obama will end his first, and perhaps only, term in office with net job growth of between 3.6 million and 5 million, depending upon which metric is chosen. Neither number is good when compared against the last one term Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, whose presidency is seen as mostly a failure by nearly everyone except Carter himself. 

Why Romney May Not Win Even Though He Should

Given the economic data, the election should be a cakewalk for Mitt Romney.  Yet, he is not moving the polls and his favorability ratings continue to decline.  That, in itself, shouldn't worry too many in the GOP because Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 with favorability ratings far lower than President Carter.  The bigger concern for the Romney campaign is the lukewarm support he has received from many staunch conservatives.  They're just not in love with the guy and many don't trust him, which is why some demanded he fire his Press Secretary when she said that if the gentleman in the latest Priorities USA SuperPAC ad had only lived in Massachusetts he would have had health insurance.  Erick Erikson (founder of the Red State blog) indicated the comment was like picking a scab and pouring salt on the wound.  To be sure, Romney is no hardcore conservative himself (so might he pick one to bolster his credibility with the party?) and governed as a moderate Rockefeller Republican in Massachusetts.  Could this lack of trust translate into lower turnout for the Republicans in November.  Time will tell.

The other major problem facing the Team Romney is that the Republican brand has been badly damaged over the last few years, particularly since the party regained control of the House.  Polls show that many voters have a negative perception of the party.  Some of that comes from the contentious Republican Presidential Primary season while some of it comes from what many see as Republican intransigence and refusal to work for the good of the country.  A prime example is the brinksmanship the party played in the summer of 2011 that led to the first ever downgrade in the nation's credit rating and a near default on the national debt.  Even Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, usually reliably pro-conservative, have blamed the GOP's anti-Obama stance for much of the dysfunction in Congress. Additionally, one has to consider the kook factor.  The GOP seems to have more than its usual share of crazies nowadays.  When one of the most caustic and crazy in her own right Republicans, Ann Coulter, says the party needs to reign in the nuts, it must be true.  

The question is whether or not any of these things will matter when voters go to the polls in November?  That, dear reader, is the $64,000 question.  If you have the answer you could make a fortune betting on the outcome of this year's presidential election.  





Thursday, July 26, 2012

Deja Vu? 2004 or 2012?

As this long summer campaign continues it becomes more and more apparent that 2012 has a lot in common with 2004, at least from an electoral perspective.  Like 2004, 2012 is a presidential election year featuring an incumbent wrapping up his first term with middling approval ratings.  At a similar point in July 2004, an NBC/Wall St. Journal Poll found President George W. Bush with a 48% approval rating.  Eight years later the most recent NBC/Wall St. Journal Poll gives President Obama a 49% approval rating.

In 2004, the nation was experiencing tepid economic growth rates in what was called a 'jobless recovery' from the recession of 2003.  Today, economic growth is exceptionally slow following the depression of 2007-09.  The unemployment rate when George W. Bush became president was 4.2% and rising.  It rose 50% to peak at 6.3% in the summer of 2003 before declining to 5.6% by July 2004.  Unemployment when Barack Obama became president stood at 8.3% and rose another 20% to peak at 10% in October 2009 before slowly declining to its current 8.2% level.

The 2004 Presidential Election featured a likable president, with less than stellar approval ratings, facing off against privileged Vietnam War vet and multi-millionaire, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.  America was in the midst of two wars, one becoming very unpopular and a drag on the incumbent.  Senator Kerry's strength was his military experience so the incumbent strategy was to cast doubt upon the senator's fitness to be Commander in Chief.  The effort led to the Swift Boat attacks against Senator Kerry shortly before election day as well as attempts to cast doubt on President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard.  The continued fear of terrorist attacks made Americans hesitant to change administrations in the midst of two wars.

Fast forward to 2012.  Both of the wars from 2004 are winding down and the economy is recovering slowly from the steep cliff it went over in 2008.  The Presidential Election features a blue blood challenger in former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with mediocre likability ratings and an incumbent president who is likable but struggling with his approval ratings.  Unlike in 2004, President Obama will not have the fear of terrorism to boost his campaign.  The focus is, and will remain, on the economy.  Thus, the president and his team will seek to cast doubt on Governor Romney's claims that he can fix the economy based on his business experience at Bain Capital.  The Romney team will argue that the president's policies have failed to turn things around.

The latest polls show the race in a virtual dead heat, not an enviable position for an incumbent to be in.  But it is a position remarkably similar to where President Bush found himself in 2004.  In 2004, the incumbent prevailed by 2.5 percentage points in the popular vote.  The race essentially came down to a single state, as it had four years earlier.  In 2000, as everybody knows, it was 'Florida, Florida, Florida' in the words of the late Tim Russert.  In 2004, it was Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.  President Bush carried the state by 118,000 votes out of more than 5.5 million ballots cast.  A swing of just 60,000 votes would have given Ohio's 20 electoral votes, and the presidency, to Senator Kerry.  President Bush was helped by a late October video released by Osama bin Laden taking credit for the 9/11 attacks, stirring up a fresh reminder to stay the course in the war against terrorism.  Will there be an 'October Surprise' for President Obama as he urges Americans to stay the course and have faith that his policies will eventually lead to the economic recovery Americans want and need?  Only time will tell.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

POTUS Election 2012 Update

I haven't done one of these for awhile so I figure it is time to update the chart for the Presidential Election in light of all the new polls that have been conducted.  While I still do not think the polls tell us anything about who will win in November, they may reveal any trends taking shape.  So let's get to the numbers!

Gallup Daily Tracking Poll


One thing that is pretty clear in the above chart is that the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama has remained exceptionally close for the first two months of summer.  In spite of a barrage of negative ads run by both campaigns, the polls have failed to move much in either direction.  There are a few explanations for the lack of movement to date:
  1. The preference stability of the American electorate.  Most voters, even those who claim to be independents, vote according to their partisan leanings.  Only a small percentage of voters actually change their minds over the course of a campaign and end up voting for the opposite candidate.
  2. Americans are not paying much attention to the race yet apart from a cursory glance at who's ahead every now and then.  The very small contingent of ideologically driven voters are always paying attention but the mass public doesn't generally do so until well after labor day.  So it is not surprising that neither side is making inroads at this point.  
  3. Much of the battle being waged between President Obama and Mitt Romney is taking place in six or seven 'battleground' states.  The likely electoral outcome is already known in more than 80% of the states.  Mississippi will support Mitt Romney in November, California will support Barack Obama.  The election will be settled in just a few states representing about 15% of the population.  As a result, most of the nation will see very little of the actual campaign or the ads.  Only those who actively seek information outside the 'battleground' will likely be exposed to the campaign.

General Election Polls

The other set of polls we have are from news and polling organizations such as Fox, CBS, and Pew Research.  As with the Gallup Daily tracking polls, there is a stability in these polls, although we can see a bit more movement in some than in others.  Fox and Pew Research have consistently had President Obama with a larger lead than most of the others.  CBS has had the race closer and is the only recent poll that shows Mitt Romney in the lead, albeit by a single point.  Most of the polls, except Pew and Fox, are within the margin of error.  What may be more important at this time are the state level polls in the 'battleground' states.  Nate Silver has an excellent recap of these on his blog.


The next few weeks will likely show more of the same as the start of the London Olympic games overshadows the presidential race until mid-August.  Romney will then likely announce his running mate, which will catapult him into the lead through the end of the Republican National Convention on August 30th.  The convention 'bounce' will likely dissipate the following week as the Democrats hold their convention in Charlotte, NC through September 6th.  President Obama will likely resume leadership in the polls by around 4-5 points.  Then the gloves will come off, the whips will be readied, and the horses will head down the backstretch toward the final turn.  For political junkies like me, it will be a fun ride!


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Bane Of It All

I'm sure everyone knows that Mitt Romney founded and directed Bain Capital for many years and reaped a personal fortune from his shrewd management, timely investments, and, yes, occasionally making deals that resulted in people losing their jobs, companies going bankrupt, and other forms of collateral damage.  So what?  That's what capitalism is and does.  For better or worse America has chosen to embrace a state-supported form of capitalism.  Now one of the barons of American capitalism is seeking to become the Chief Executive Officer of the free world.  Bain Capital has become the bane of Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations.  Why?

It's not that Romney's a wealthy guy or made a lot of money as a capitalist.  Americans, liberal and conservative alike, celebrate successful entrepreneurs (ask Bill Gates or Warren Buffett).  Most of us at one time dreamt that we could one day be like them, even though 99.99999999999 percent of us will never move beyond middle class no matter how hard we work.  Upward mobility in America is a myth perpetuated by politicians and the privileged class to mollify a population saddled with heavy debt and stagnant wages.  One recent study indicates that those wanting to climb the ladder of social mobility have a much better opportunity of doing so in most European countries than they do in the United States.   But I digress.

No, the reason Bain Capital is, or at least should be, an important issue in this election is because Mitt Romney has made it the central claim for why he should be elected president.  His argument is that he worked in the real economy, knows how to create (and destroy) jobs, knows what it takes to act as Chief Executive and be personally responsible for the people under him.  All these things are good things. But curiously, Romney now wants Bain to be off limits to scrutiny from the press, the public, and his opponent.  It is somehow an 'attack on success' to ask questions about exactly what did Mitt Romney do at Bain? How involved was he in decisions that exchanged equity for debt and led to companies filing for bankruptcy while Romney and his investors reaped tens of millions of dollars?  The man who wants to be America's CEO needs to provide Americans with a full accounting of his tenure at Bain Capital if he expects us to trust him with the most precious and powerful office in the world.

That's why it is imperative that Mitt Romney release his tax returns, not just for a year or two, but probably for 20 or 30 years.  How much did Mitt Romney profit while the employees at companies Bain invested in suffered as they lost their livelihoods and companies?  We have a right to know if we are going to invest this man with the power of the American Presidency.  Nobody cares, or should care, that Romney is part of the 1%...most of our political leaders are in that group...what we should care about is what he did to get there.  The name of the company Mitt Romney founded, Bain, is a homonym with the word bane.  Dictionary dot com defines the word bane as follows:



bane

  
noun
1.
a person or thing that ruins or spoils: Gambling was the bane ofhis existence.
2.
a deadly poison (often used in combination, as in the namesof poisonous plants): wolfsbane; henbane.
3.
death; destruction; ruin.


Ironically, what Mitt Romney did or did not do at Bain Capital may be the very thing that ruins his presidential ambitions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fighting the 'Submerged State:' Why Conservatives Really Fear Barack Obama

Conservatives are right to fear President Barack Obama and his agenda.  Of course, they spin deceitful lies about what the president is up to, where he was born, label him as a muslim, call him unpatriotic, and many other partisan political attacks in an effort to delegitimize him in the eyes of the American people.  All of these efforts are simply methods of obfuscation on the part of the GOP.  In other words, the Republicans want to confuse and confound the American people by calling things what they are not.  A few examples come to mind quickly, such as the nonexistent yet infamous 'death panels' in the Affordable Care Act and PolitiFact's 'Lie of the Year', the government takeover of health care.  Neither of those things are a part of the law but the truth can be so limiting that Republicans feel they might as well make stuff up to scare the unwashed masses, who remain largely ignorant of public policy and who benefits from it.  Suzanne Mettler (The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy) makes a convincing argument that people are ignorant about government policies and their beneficiaries, especially social welfare policies, largely because they have been 'submerged' into the modern state.  In short, people who receive the benefits of these policies aren't even aware of the fact they are receiving government benefits.  Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 was largely about exposing the submerged state so that citizens would understand 'who gets what and how,' as Harold Lasswell famously stated.  That's what really scares conservatives about President Obama.

We've all heard the phrase uttered by the ignorant Tea Party conservative about keeping the government's hands off 'my' Medicare, right?  Perhaps you think that's an extreme example?  Consider the results of a survey of government issues conducted in 2008.  One of the questions asked respondents if they had ever received benefits from a government program.  Nearly 57% of respondents said they never had.  Later in the survey, 19 government programs were identified and it turned out that over 91% of respondents had used at least one government program at some time in their life, many without ever realizing it was, in fact, a government program.  For example, 60% of people claiming the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID) said they had never benefitted from a government program.  Yet, the HMID is the 2nd largest tax expenditure in the IRS code, costing approximately $105 billion a year.  The vast majority of beneficiaries of this program apart from realtors, construction companies, and bankers?  American families with earnings of $60,000 a year or more.  In other words, it is a government program for the top 25% of income earners in the country.  Citizens with lower incomes typically don't have enough other deductions to itemize on their tax returns and thus are unable to claim this benefit.  A broader question that I won't answer here is why does the government subsidize economic activity that consumers are likely to engage in anyway?  It isn't as though wealthy Americans will stop buying homes and begin renting apartments if they are unable to deduct mortgage interest, is it?  Don't get me wrong, I've been able to claim this deduction for the last several years and I'm happy to do so.  A few more examples:  52% of people claiming the child and dependent care tax credit don't think they received a government benefit. Really?  My two favorites are the federal student loan program (53% of recipients don't think it is a government program) and Social Security (44% don't see it as a government program).  On the latter program people seem to believe they are only receiving back what they paid in.  Right.

Why do conservatives (and some Democrats) fear Barack Obama's attack on the submerged state?  Because many of their financial backers are dependent upon the subsidies they receive from submerged government programs.  Take the Republicans opposition to Obama's plan to end the more than $6 billion a year in federal subsidies to banks making student loans.  Student lenders spent on average about $80 million a year lobbying Congress in an (unsuccessful) effort to take student loan programs out of the hands of the private banks and create a direct lending system in which the government is the creditor, allowing more students access to federal loans at lower interest rates than ever before.  Guess what just disappeared?  Nearly $20 million a year in campaign contributions from student lending institutions to 'friendly' Republicans and Democrats.

This is just one example of Obama's war on the submerged state.  There are many others, including health care and the real estate industries (each contribute about $140 million to political parties, PACs, and campaigns annually), which spend about $60 million each per year on lobbying activities.  The benefits received by these industries each year is measured in billions of dollars.  And it's all under the radar of most Americans.  We see rallies and protests against government welfare programs designed to aid the poor and unfortunate, like providing health insurance to low income workers, but nary a word against the upward redistribution of wealth to bankers, realtors, and big pharmaceutical companies.  In the end, Mettler argues, the invisible nature of these programs disconnects citizens from their government.  Unearthing and making citizens aware of these issues may lead to a more activist base of citizens who get involved with their government.  This is why conservatives fear Barack Obama.  It is why they oppose full disclosure laws when it comes to political spending.  It is why they oppose 'Obamacare.'  It is why they support unlimited spending by wealthy corporate interests to sway the outcome of American elections in their favor.  A fully informed citizenry just might say enough is enough and put an end to the influence of big business in politics.  And that would have disastrous results for the party of big business, the GOP.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Every so often an issue comes along that involves all three branches of the federal government.  For the past three years that issue has been the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  President Obama made health care reform the central promise of his campaign in 2008 and followed through on that commitment in 2009 and 2010.  Congress considered and debated ways to provide health insurance to more Americans for the better part of a year beginning in March 2009 and culminating with the passage of the ACA in December of 2009 after an extremely contentious process in the Senate.  Things moved back to the House in March 2010 when the House agreed to the Senate bill, provided the Senate would adopt some 'fix' measures that House Democratic moderates insisted upon.  The President signed the ACA on March 23, 2010.  Using a process known as reconciliation both chambers then took up the 'fix' package and passed it in short order.  The president signed the changes into law on March 30, 2010.  Then the legal battles began.

For more than two years, observers waited for the ACA to make it's way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Arguments centered around two key provisions:  1)  Could Congress mandate that all Americans obtain a minimum standard of health insurance coverage or pay a fine and; 2) Could the government withhold all Medicaid funds from states if they did not expand their Medicaid rolls to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level?  On Thursday, the Court ruled yes and no to the first question and no to the second question.  Huh?

As Inigo Montoya said to the Man in Black (Princess Bride), "le' me sum up."  On the first question a majority of the Court said that Congress could not use its power to regulate commerce to require Americans to buy health insurance.  This was a big win for conservatives, even if they fail to see it because of their hatred of Barack Obama and his signature initiative.  The ruling places further restrictions upon Congress use of the commerce clause, continuing a pattern of Court decisions that have been issued since Lopez v. United States (1995).  In that case, the Court struck down the Gun Free School Zones Act, which banned the possession of a gun within certain distances of a school.  Further limitations on Congress' commerce clause power came in Printz v. United States (1997), and a series of other cases.  In that sense, the ruling in the ACA case was perfectly consistent with a conservative understanding of the constitution.  At the same time, however, a majority of the Court agreed that Congress could impose a tax on consumers who fail to acquire minimally acceptable health insurance, thus upholding the ACA.

On the second question, the Court by a 7-2 majority ruled that the federal government may not punish a state by withholding all Medicaid funds if it fails to increase Medicaid coverage to all citizens within 133% of FPL.  This is yet another win for the conservatives and federalism.  Ultimately, coercion is the only power the federal government has over states in areas not involving civil rights and/or equal protection.  The government has long used this power of coercion to bring states into line with federal mandates.  It may not be able to do so any longer.  Practically, it remains to be seen what the impact of the ruling will be but it is conceivable that states may be able to lower the drinking age if they wish without fear of losing federal highway funds, ignore the provisions of No Child Left Behind without jeopardizing federal education assistance, and a plethora of other issues.  If this reading of the ruling pans out, conservatives may get what they want:  50 states with 50 separate sets of laws and a much weaker federal government.

In what may have been one of the most politically calculated decisions in the history of the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts, in the mold of the Great Chief Justice John Marshall, awarded victory to both liberals and conservatives in one case while deferring to the elected branches on the question of policy wisdom, and maintained the independent integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court.  To be sure, opponents of 'Obamacare' won't see it this way due to their partisan and ideological blinders.  But from an institutionalist's view, it was by all accounts a brilliant political maneuver.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Watergate 40th Anniversary

Here's a video clip from the Columbus, MS CBS affiliate with a story about Watergate 40 years later.  The reporter and camera crew showed up in my office moments before class began.   The Watergate story begins at the 3:25 mark and my comments follow the introduction.  A couple of my students are also featured in the interviews.

WCBI News at 6, June 18, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Beat Goes On



You're probably wondering what this video has to do with a blog about the presidency and Congress, right?  Well, Sonny Bono was a congressman after his entertainment career ended...though some might say what Congress does IS entertainment for the political class.  And that, dear reader, is entirely the point.  The beat does indeed go on.  Partisans on both sides of the aisle seek ways to make the other side look bad so as to gain an advantage for their own party.  A new blog out this week makes the case that what we're seeing in Congress is not so much ideological polarization as it is hyper-partisanship.  In a polarized system, individuals disagree ideologically about pretty much everything that's important.  In a hyper-partisan system, individuals may agree with each other but oppose each other anyway so as to avoid allowing the 'other side' to get any credit for successful accomplishments.  That's largely where we are now as we watch Republicans voting against things they've always supported (and will support again if they unify control of government).  I speak of things like the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.  It was, after all, a Republican idea.  But because a Democratic President empaneled the commission it had to die a miserable death so Republicans could claim the president wasn't serious about deficit reduction.  Of course, the president hasn't helped his cause either.  He should be barnstorming the country demanding that the Republicans (and the Democratic Senate) get serious about the problem now instead of playing partisan games to make each other look bad.  Both parties are acting like spoiled school children trying to impress the teacher by smearing mud on the other kid's face.  And the beat goes on....

Another example is yesterday's vote in the House on a bill that would prohibit abortion based on gender selection by imposing criminal penalties on both women and doctors who performed such abortions, knowingly or unknowingly.  The House rules committee rigged the vote so the bill would fail by requiring a 2/3 majority (290 votes when all seats are filled) to pass...knowing full well the bill would fall well short of that number.  Predictably, it failed by a 246-168, mostly along partisan lines, though some Republicans opposed and a few more Democrats voted in favor of the bill.  It is this kind of nonsense legislation that tunes Americans out to politics.  Nobody in their right mind supports abortion  based on the gender of the fetus.  In fact, most abortions take place before it is even possible to discern gender.  But, as GOP operatives admitted, it forced many Democrats to go on the record opposing the bill, which will then be spun as supporting 'gender-selection' abortions.  And the beat goes on.....




Saturday, May 19, 2012

Presidential Election Update May 19, 2012

We are still more than five and a half months away from the November 2012 presidential election but both campaigns have begun testing the message they want the voters to base their choice on in November:  It's the economy, stupid.  President Obama will argue that the economy is much better than it was four years ago.  The message is very similar to one of the best campaign ads in history--Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection message proclaiming it to 'Morning Again in America', as seen below.




The president's campaign began with the message 'Forward' making the argument that the policies put in place over the last three and a half years have pulled the nation out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Yet, there is still work to do and now is no time to revert to the policies that led to the recession.  Here's the first reelection ad from the president.  An abbreviated version of the ad ran on television.  Here's the web version, which is over 7 minutes long.






Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has also begun advertising on television in several key battleground states.  The focus for the Romney camp is also on the economy.  The Romney team hopes to paint a contrast between the recovery under President Obama versus what the policies of a President Romney would look like.  Here's the ad:




For now, it seems both campaigns want to run somewhat positive ads, though each has a negative undertone...Obama attributing the economic collapse in 2008 to Republican policies, Romney arguing that growth is too slow because Obama 'blocked' job creation.  

Of bigger concern will be the role of the 'unaffiliated' Super PACs unleashed by the Citizens United decision two years ago.  Both sides are likely to spend in excess of a couple hundred million dollars on negative attack ads.  This may turn out to be the most brutal campaign in many years.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the madness of the polling organizations continues to show a volatile race between Obama and Romney.  One poll has Romney up a couple points, the next has Obama comfortable ahead.  It's too early to make any forecasts but here's what they look like today:

Media Polls


Gallup Daily Tracking Poll

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do Tax Cuts Lead to Revenue Increases?

I know, I've dealt with this one before but for some reason the myth won't die no matter how many times it is doused with gasoline and hit by a flamethrower.  In a recent thread elsewhere I was told that 
"Every time federal income tax rates have been cut, federal revenue has increased!" 
Being the cynical skeptic that I am I just had to check this out.  Fortunately, the person making the claim provided a link to some tax data.  Unfortunately, it wasn't an analysis of the effect of tax cuts on revenue but just a White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) table listing receipts, outlays, and deficits from 1940 through the present (with projections through 2017).  You can see the table here.

I responded by saying three things are necessary to 'prove' that tax cuts increase revenue:

  • It is not sufficient to show that revenue increased after a tax cut.  It must be demonstrated that revenue increased because of the tax cut.  This is far more difficult to do than merely saying that there was a tax cut in 1964 and that revenue was higher in 1968.  As we like to say in the social sciences, correlation is not causation.  
  • In order to demonstrate that a tax cut produced extra revenue we need to know how much revenue the government would have received without the tax cut.  This is very tricky to do, though we can use revenue projections based on standard growth projections, as I'll try to show below.  
  • Any claim of revenue increases must also use a constant measure of the dollar to control for inflation/deflation.  The OMB revenue table does this by using Fiscal Year 2005 as a baseline measure.  

Here's an oversimplified example of the above principles in action using the following assumptions:

  • Taxes are cut at the beginning of the five year period and;
  • Inflation is at 0% throughout the period and;
  • There is no recession (how can there be if tax cuts cause economic growth?).
Let's say we have an economy that has a Gross Domestic Product of $1 trillion annually.  Further, let us stipulate that the tax rate is 20%.  The economy has been growing at a rate of 3% per year and will continue to do so for the five year period.  Here's what we get with no tax cut:

Fiscal Year Gross Domestic Product (GDP)                 Revenue by Fiscal Year
FY01:  $1 trillion                                                              $200 billion
FY02:  $1.03 trillion                                                         $206 billion
FY03:  $1.06 trillion                                                         $212 billion
FY04:  $1.09 trillion                                                         $218 billion
FY05:  $1.13 trillion                                                         $226 billion

In this scenario we see a 13% growth in both GDP and revenue over the period.  Let us now compare that with a scenario in which taxes are reduced by 2 percentage points after the first year.  To be generous let us assume that a 2% tax rate cut will produce a 33% increase in economic growth.  This means GDP will grow by 4% per year instead of 3%.  The baseline remains the same so the first year revenue will be the same.

Fiscal Year Gross Domestic Product (GDP)                Revenue by Fiscal Year
FY01:  $1 trillion                                                             $200 billion
FY02:  $1.04 trillion                                                        $187.2 billion
FY03:  $1.08 trillion                                                        $194.4 billion
FY04:  $1.12 trillion                                                        $202.2 billion
FY05:  $1.17 trillion                                                        $210.6 billion

As we can see above, the government would have collected $1.062 trillion in revenue under the first scenario over the five year period.  After the tax cut, assuming the cut increased economic productivity by 33% (an unrealistic assumption but I'm being generous) government revenue for the five year period would be $994.4 billion, or $67.6 billion less than it would have been without the tax cut.  I also projected this scenario assuming 5% annual growth (a 67% increase as a result of the tax cut) and government revenue would still be more than $8 billion lower in FY05 than without the tax cut.

All of the above is calculated in a vacuum using perfect world scenarios.  We do not live in a perfect world. There are business cycle fluctuations resulting in recessionary periods and boom cycles resulting in extraordinary growth.  Tax cuts (and tax increases) in and of themselves do not cause these cycles.  Government policy needs to be flexible enough to deal with the ups and downs of the business cycle by reducing taxes during a downturn (but not reducing spending because this will negate the effect of the tax cut) and restoring tax cuts during boom cycles to pay off deficits accumulated earlier.  

For a far more complicated analysis look here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Same-Sex Marriage: States Rights or Civil Rights?

The culture wars have returned to the headlines in dramatic fashion over the past week as a result of President Obama's decision to announce that he personally supports same-sex marriage as seen in this video:

Obama Affirms Support for Same-Sex Marriage | Video - ABC News

The announcement by the president surprised no one.  Rumors of the president's 'evolution' on the issue had been circulating Washington and the blogosphere for weeks prior to the official announcement.  Yet, the president's position was not a full-throated endorsement of same-sex marriage but a statement of his 'personal' belief about the issue.  In the very next breath the president said that he believes it is an issue for states to decide on their own.  In short, nothing was really changed by the president's statement except that he may have made some of his more progressive supporters slightly happier.  He certainly didn't do much to advance their cause politically other than to announce they have an ally in the Oval Office.  It's kind of like saying 'hey, my thoughts are with you, good luck.'  The president doesn't have to, and probably won't, say much more about the issue henceforth.

It is, of course, more telling what the president did not say than what he did say that matters.  President Obama did not say that he viewed same-sex marriage as a matter of equal rights or civil rights.  If he had, he could not adopt the 'states should decide' approach to the issue.  Civil rights cannot be subject to majoritarian preferences.  What the president has done is turn this issue over to the Supreme Court for a final decision.  The issue was headed there anyway as a result of the invalidation of California's Proposition 8.

Regardless of what one's personal view of homosexuality or same-sex unions/marriages happens to be, the ultimate question must be one of civil rights.  Is the entry into a legal arrangement that provides benefits and privileges sanctioned by the state a right protected by the United States Constitution or not?  Personally, I don't believe government should be involved in marriage apart from regulating that which is in the best interests of the general welfare (such as allowing incestuous marriages or cross species marriages!).  Same-sex unions do not meet that bar.  Nevertheless, government has chosen to involve itself in the regulation of marriage and thus must abide by the Constitution.

The Equality Perspective


From a political science perspective, I think the equality argument must be granted much weight.  Proponents have argued that banning same-sex marriage is the equivalent of denying marriage to persons of differing races.  While I grant there is a slight similarity here, I think they are barking up the wrong tree, so to speak.  The stronger argument, I think, comes from the idea that government is endorsing a specific type of societal arrangement, i.e., the traditional male-female union, and then bestowing rights (inheritance, visitation, custodial, etc...) on those citizens who enter into that union while denying others the ability to enter into a similar union based on sexual orientation.  The appeal here should not be to laws banning miscegenation but to the founding documents upon which the nation was created.  Thomas Jefferson wrote,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....
When governments deny same-sex couples the right to enter into a marital union, does it not deny them both liberty and the pursuit of that which will make them happy?  To be sure, government may deny citizens liberty and the pursuit of happiness under certain conditions.  One of these conditions would be if the chosen course of action could be harmful to society or to individuals within society.  This may or may not be the case with same-sex marriages but the burden of proof must lie with the government.  In order to deny liberty and happiness the government must first perform due process as stated in the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution:

No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...(5th Amendment)
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  (14th Amendment)
From the viewpoint of this political scientist, the denial of rights or privileges by either the federal or state government without due process of law and denial of the equal protection of the law to same-sex couples is immensely troubling.  What might be even more troubling is that President Obama is only four years behind in adopting the position taken by former Vice-President Dick Cheney in this video:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

State of the Race May 5, 2012

Another Saturday, another look at the weekly state of the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  No new national polls of note this week.


The Gallup Daily Tracking Poll has now been going on for about three weeks.  That provides us enough data points to make a chart of the numbers worthwhile.  The initial tracking polls showed Gov. Romney with a lead of between 1 and 5 percentage points, the situation flipped on April 21 as President Obama opened up a 3 percentage point lead.  As of the latest update on May 3 the race is back to a deadbeat.  Seems appropriate given this week is the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Here's the chart:




Friday, April 20, 2012

Budget Lies and Journalistic Disgrace

The Republican talking point machine is in high gear as we head into the silly season prior to the party conventions in late summer.  Economic growth is decent but not great.  The fictional 'war on women' is winding down leaving Republicans with little to talk about.  So why not resurrect the tired line about the president failing to pass a budget in three years, ignoring the fact that it is Congress' responsibility to pass a budget, not the president's.  They could even send Sarah Palin out to lecture about how President Obama is shirking his constitutional responsibility.  Wait, they did.  Of course, as Jon Bernstein notes, Palin doesn't even apparently understand the Constitution she so willingly accuses the president of violating.   In an interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox Palin says,
And the number one thing, Greta, that he is responsible for is -- he today violating Article I, Section [9], Clause 7 of the United States Constitution in not having a budget. Going on three years, over a thousand days with no budget, no blueprint to run our federal government!
Really?  As others have pointed out, the section Palin cited says NOTHING about a budget or a series of appropriations bills.  It simply says that when the government spends money it has to be authorized by law and it has to account for the expenditures.  Both of those things have happened...the Budget Control Act of November 18, 2011 established spending levels for FY 2012 and the executive branch produces expenditure reports regularly as required.  No violations here.  Just a lot of hot air emanating from Ms. Palin, as usual.

But that isn't what bothers me.  No, it is the sheer lack of journalistic integrity displayed by Greta Van Susteren that allowed Palin to get away with this nonsense.  Now, I understand that expecting an infotainment channel like Fox to actually explain to its viewers how the appropriations process works might qualify me for delusions even greater than the ones Gov. Palin apparently suffers from.  Expecting the media to actually educate Americans is a tall order, especially when they don't want to be educated.  Nevertheless, the media play a vital role in preserving a democratic society and if the best it can do is provide a platform for know nothings to spout disinformation for partisan political purposes perhaps democracy isn't worth preserving after all.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

State of the 2012 Race for the White House

We've had a busy week in the world of presidential polling with three new polls released yesterday.  Each of them shows the president holding a lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.  The leads vary from 12 points in the latest CNN poll to 4 points in the Reuters and Pew polls.  Now, those of you who know me understand that I don't put much stock in polls this far out from an election.  They are simply a snapshot of the electorate's mood at a given point in time.  That said, here's the latest picture of the polls.


Gallup has also begun reporting its daily tracking poll on the race between President Obama and Governor Romney.  Once we have enough data points I will post a graphic for that poll each week.  Currently, this poll has Mitt Romney leading President Obama by 5 points, 48-43.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hilary Rosen Dustup & New National Poll

Manufacturing Controversy


It is clear from the events of the last few days that America has finally solved all its problems.  At least that's what I'm tempted to think given all the conversation by the chattering class about what Hilary Rosen said a couple nights ago.  Mitt Romney has stated on several occasions that his wife Ann helps him to understand the issues that are important to women.  Hilary Rosen attempted to cast doubt on Ms. Romney's ability to understand the economic concerns of working class women by saying that Ann Romney 'never worked a day in her life.'  It was clearly a poor choice of words by Ms. Rosen that have been spun by the press and the GOP to make it sound as though Rosen was denigrating Ms. Romney for being a stay at home mom.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  Ms. Rosen was just sticking to the Democratic Party line that will be a large part of the fall general election campaign argument that the Romney's are part of the 1% and as such cannot identify with the struggles of the 99%.  It wasn't an attack on stay at home moms or Ann Romney.  But since all of our problems have been solved, the political elites have to manufacture controversy somewhere or we just might tune them out.  Perhaps we should do that anyway?

New Fox News Poll

A new national poll was released on Friday showing Mitt Romney with a 2 percentage point lead over President Barack Obama.  As a result I've updated the chart posted earlier this week.