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


  • 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-
  • 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+
  • 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.