Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why all party scholars should see "Gangs of New York"

I just showed Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" (2002) in my parties class. I've now seen it roughly half a dozen times, and every time I watch it I catch something new that screams important lessons about political parties. Yes, it's a brutally violent film, but it's worth getting through that to learn its lessons.

The movie spans a party regime cycle. At its beginning in 1846, the New York neighborhood known as the Five Points is neatly polarized between the Nativists, led by Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis), and a collection of Irish Catholic immigrant gangs, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and his Dead Rabbits. This polarization comes to a quick end in a street battle that leaves Vallon defeated. Cutting absorbs many of Vallon's old lieutenants into his organization, keeping them from rising against him. And for many years, the Butcher's organization is the only real game in town. We even see Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent) of the Tammany Hall organization forming an alliance with Cutting: Cutting turns out the vote, Tweed pays him handsomely for it and provides patronage jobs.

Much of the film's plot focuses on the rise of young Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Cutting's regime. Unbeknown to Cutting, Amsterdam is actually the son of the slain Priest Vallon and secretly harbors a desire for revenge. The system slowly repolarizes, as Amsterdam true identity is revealed, he is promptly ousted from Cutting's group, and then he reorganizes the Dead Rabbits. In what might as well be a quote from Schattschneider, Amsterdam tells his lieutenants of the advantage of organization:
There’s more of us coming off the boats each day. I heard 15,000 Irish a week, and we’re afraid of the natives? Get all of us together, and we ain’t got a gang, we got an army. All we need’s a spark, right? Just a spark, something to wake us all up.
The film suggests that the central societal schism is, in one form or another, immigrants versus natives, and that party systems keep polarizing, falling, and then repolarizing around that same schism. As one key character, Monk McGinn (Brendan Gleeson), explains,
My father was killed in battle, too. In Ireland, in the streets, fighting those who would take as their privilege what could only be got and held by the decimation of a race. That war is a thousand years old and more. We never expected it to follow us here. It didn't. It was waiting for us when we landed.
This ancient system is brought to a sudden and violent end by the military during the 1863 draft riots. It is, in some ways, a dissatisfying ending to the old system that was so distinguished by chivalry, blood oaths, and paternalism. But the film's ending makes perfect sense -- the old system cannot be the one that guides a modern nation.

There's so much more to this film that I can't begin to get into here, but I'd recommend it for classes on parties and civil war history. It's just brilliant.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Obama on campus

I waited for two hours to get into a Barack Obama speech at Magness Arena this morning, only to be turned away, along with thousands of others. Not fun for me, but still an impressive turnout.

Pleasantly enough, Obama spoke to those of us left outside before going in for his prepared speech. He looked out at all of us and said, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." Yeah, that's a Jaws reference! So he won me over with that.

But now I'm thinking more about it. If he's Roy Scheider's character, who's the shark? Remember, the shark was a New Yorker who had migrated from down south. Hello, Hillary?

And maybe he wasn't referring just to the movie, but also to Achen and Bartels' shark attack paper. If so, that's serious dog-whistle politics. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who heard.

At any rate, I listened to his full speech later on the web in the warmth of my office. There were some interesting digs at Hillary Clinton in there, suggesting he was reaching out to the Edwards folks. He seemed to abandon some of that post-partisan talk in favor of saying that Americans need a choice in November, and that Hillary, with her Iraq war vote, is a bit too close to the Republicans on some key issues. That's the kind of talk that won me over to John Edwards in the first place. Keep talking, Barack.

Edwards out

Yes, I'm very sad about this. Maybe he could have done some things better, but I really thought he ran a nice campaign, had an excellent and important message, and rode that message about as effectively as possible.

He planned on running a long time ago. How could he have known that he'd be running against one candidate with all the insider support and another one with more raw political talent than we've seen in years? Who could have succeeded against those odds?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Florida Democrats

1.7 million Floridians participated in the Democratic primary today, even though it wasn't a close contest, there was almost no advertising, and there were no delegates at stake. This is just shy of the turnout in the GOP primary, which was close, had tons of advertising, and did involve delegates. It was more than double the turnout in 2004. Hillary Clinton raked in more of these "meaningless" votes than John McCain did.

Okay, so there were no delegates at stake. But this means something. Democratic voters are really, really motivated this year.

More from Digby.

I don't want a pickle

Huge endorsement news:
Arlo Guthrie endorses Ron Paul.

Florida - What it means

This was a really big night for McCain and an interesting night for the GOP. Florida is a closed primary state, so McCain managed to win among registered Republicans, a goal that's escaped him thus far. It's also a winner-take-all state, so for once it's appropriate that the media focus on the plurality winner.

It's interesting to look at the issue breakdowns in the exit polls. A full 45% of GOP voters said that the economy was their number one concern -- a huge shift from just a few months ago. The old speculation was that voters concerned about the economy would vote for Romney, a successful business leader, rather than McCain, whose area of expertise is considered military in nature. In fact, economy voters preferred McCain to Romney 38-32.

On top of this, Giuliani is apparently withdrawing tomorrow and endorsing McCain. Giuliani obviously sucks as a campaigner, but he still had 15 percent of the voters in his corner, and some of them might listen to that endorsement. (Still, the exit polls show that Giuliani voters would have leaned more toward Romney than McCain if Giuliani hadn't been on the ballot.)

So yes, I've been predicting a Romney nomination, and this puts a bleaker face on that. One plus for Romney was that he won tonight among self-described conservatives 37-27. The problem is that, even among registered Republicans, not everyone is conservative. 39% of those who voted in today's GOP primary described themselves as moderate or liberal. It's been a tough few years for conservatives. Not everyone's eager to describe themselves as such.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Huge developmental milestone

My son Googled "poop" today.

Obama to speak at DU

Obama's coming to the University of Denver this Wednesday. Supposed to speak at 8:30 AM somewhere on campus.

Update: He's speaking at 10AM in Magness Arena. Doors open at 8:30. It's open to the public, but attendees are encouraged to get an e-ticket.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Finally, a Colorado poll

Mason-Dixon has a Colorado poll out. On the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton are essentially tied, 34-32, with Edwards trailing at 17. In the caucuses, you need at least 15 percent to get any delegates, so Edwards is in an iffy position. Of course, his share of the vote will vary a lot by precinct. On the GOP side, Romney is at 43, McCain at 24, and Huckabee at 17.

I sort of expected a huge Romney lead, given the huge insider advantage he has here. Just about every big GOP officeholder who's endorsed has gone Romney's way. But Clinton has a similar advantage here, and she's only tied in the polls.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Big Daddy

I'm reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Big Daddy, Bill Boyarsky's new biography on Jesse Unruh. Unruh was the speaker of the California Assembly from 1961-68 and figured very prominently in my dissertation research. I even visited his grave on the day my dissertation got signed.

Unruh's a fascinating figure because he really figured out how to build a party from within a legislature. He essentially forced lobbyists to give money to him, which he would distribute to fellow Democrats facing difficult elections. He understood the importance and power of centralized money and information in a way that few others did before him.

Boyarsky has a great story in there about Unruh's formative years as a student at USC on a GI Bill scholarship. Unruh helped organize a group of working class students, including many veterans, to contest student elections, which had previously been controlled by the fraternities. Then later, he began to work with the frat guys to form the Unity Party, and sought to get himself nominated as the Unity presidential candidate. They held an open convention, and Unruh lost, since the opposition party raided the convention. Unruh learned from this, according to Boyarsky:
Unruh said he learned "that it is impossible to maintain a purely democratic internal structure for a political party no matter how ideologically appetizing that idea might be." After that, and for the rest of his life, Unruh stayed away from meetings unless he had arranged the result beforehand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Surrogates a-comin'!

The Clinton and Obama campaigns are sending surrogates to Denver next week. Clinton is sending Bill. Obama is sending Tom Daschle.

Point - Clinton.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

SC Dem Debate

I'm really not sure how the fireworks between Obama and Clinton in last night's debate will play with voters. I think it's good that they can defend their records and dish out substantive attacks -- the winner will need to be able to do this in the general election. But yes, it's a bit of a turnoff, especially considering how comparatively civil, substantive, and high-minded the debates have been thus far.

Clinton and Obama more or less ignored Edwards. You can hardly blame them, since the media have been doing the same thing. But the risk of their two-person slapfest is that it allows a third participant to rise above the ugliness. It hasn't gotten a ton of attention, but after one of Clinton and Obama's nastier exchanges, Edwards said this:
What I want to say first is, are there three people in this debate, not two?
And I also want to know -- I also want to know on behalf of voters here in South Carolina, this kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?
We have got to understand -- you know, and I respect both of my fellow candidates -- but we have got to understand this is not about us personally. It is about what we are trying to do for this country and what we believe in.
And he was frequently interrupted by applause.

It's probably too late for Edwards, but I hope he'll stick it out for a while anyway. Apparently, Martin Luther King III agrees. He had this to say yesterday:
I urge you: keep going. Ignore the pundits, who think this is a horserace, not a fight for justice. My dad was a fighter. As a friend and a believer in my father's words that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, I say to you: keep going. Keep fighting. My father would be proud.
Nice endorsement.

I am honkey, hear me roar

Mitt Romney, meeting with African American voters in Jacksonville, FL: "Who let the dogs out? Who! Who!" Video here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big Dog's gettin' weird

I'm glad Josh Marshall wrote this down:
I don't have a good answer to this. I don't expect Bill Clinton, who's not a shrinking violet, to be neutral in his own wife's nomination campaign. But I have to admit that the intensity of Bill Clinton's attacks on Barack Obama really makes me uncomfortable. I know there are a lot of Democratic party insiders, mostly older than I am, who don't like it either. But I wonder if there's not some generational aspect to it for people my age. I was in my early 20s in 1992. And really throughout the 90s you couldn't be a bigger Clinton guy than I was. So it's hard to see that history (and it's quite some history) leveraged to muscle this campaign.
Ditto here. I'm a huge fan of the guy, but he's creeping me out lately.

Interesting election day

A few interesting things happened today in both party nomination races. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did quite well in Nevada. Although it wasn't a huge win over Obama, the exit polls show some real strengths for her. Obama beat Clinton among African Americans (83-14), but Clinton beat Obama among Latinos (64-26) and among Jews (67-25). That makes Obama look more like "the black candidate," whereas Clinton showed she could win a broader Democratic constituency. And again, she won big among registered Democrats, whereas Obama was the candidate of independents. Clinton is looking more and more like the kind of candidate Democrats usually nominate. I'm feeling a lot more confident in my Clinton prediction after today.

The GOP results out of Nevada and South Carolina left more of a jumbled message. Romney's win in Nevada didn't really surprise anyone, since most other candidates had more or less given up on that state, but there were a few events of note there. A huge chunk of Romney's support came from Mormons. They comprise around 6% of the state's population but made up 26% of the GOP voters today. (h/t to David Karol for noting this.) That's an enormous turnout effect. (95% of Mormons voted for Romney, by the way.)

John McCain's got to feel good about his win in South Carolina, especially since that state essentially destroyed him in 2000, but I still think the exit polls show the overall weakness of his position. Huckabee actually won among registered Republicans and self-described conservatives; McCain, as usual, is the darling of independents and moderates.

I think the smart money is still on Romney for the GOP nod. No one loves him, but a wide swath of Republicans can at least tolerate him, and very few people hate him (except the media, and that's good for him). Huckabee and McCain are despised by a sizeable chunk of the party, and the chunk that loves McCain is barely even in the party. Huckabee doesn't have the money or organization to compete in a large number of states; he needs momentum for that, and he's not getting it tonight. McCain can compete nationally, but I don't think he can go toe-to-toe with Romney in a closed primary, and there are lots of those coming up.

PS: Poor John Edwards. ARG had him in a three-way tie in Nevada last week and he came up with just 4% of the vote today. Sadly, this says far more about ARG's polling than about Edwards' campaign.

Let's Daaaaance!

My book is getting published. Celebrate with me.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Friday, January 18, 2008

Is Rudy's campaign really that bad?

A number of political observers, notably Josh Marshall, have been singling out Giuliani's campaign as potentially being the worst in modern presidential history. After all, Giuliani was the national poll leader among Republicans for all of 2007. Suddenly, his support is bottoming out in state after state.

I don't think this is a fair characterization. The assumption is that the campaign got him to the point of being the top GOP candidate all during 2007 and then somehow blew that lead. That's not what happened. Giuliani's lead in last year's polls was based on very thin gruel -- high name recognition (relative to the other candidates, save McCain) and 9/11 hagiography. The campaigns inevitably force voters to learn more about the candidates. Not surprisingly, as Republicans learned more about Giuliani (his stances on social issues, his mixed record as mayor, his personal foibles), they found there wasn't that much there for them to like. You could see this happening in late '07, when he was still the national poll leader, but had dropped precipitously in the early primary and caucus states, where voters were paying closer attention.

This is not to overlook some weaknesses in his campaign, particularly his over-reaching advertisements, but even a really well run campaign probably couldn't have saved him.

Oh, you voters you

Voters often surprise me with their understanding of politics. They occasionally get stuff, and even when they're not well informed, they can sometimes serve to bring some accountability to the system. That is, they notice when truly awful things are happening, and they punish the people in charge.

That said, it's hard not to be a bit disappointed in voters lately. I get that they don't have strong opinions about a lot of political issues, but on many things, they're profoundly wrong. Why have they persistently found John Edwards to be the most conservative of the three major Democratic presidential candidates, even though he's the one talking like Eugene V. Debs? Why do voters consider Hillary Clinton the candidate of experience, when she's had approximately the same amount of elected office experience as Edwards and Obama? Why do Republican voters who are against the Iraq War support John McCain, who has been one of the most steadfast war supporters in the GOP? Why are Democrats so enthusiastic about Barack Obama, even though he commits offenses like praising Ronald Reagan or saying there's a Social Security "crisis"?

Come on, voters! I'm pulling for you, but you make it hard sometimes. It's like rooting for Cal football.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

God/Constitution HotSync

Mike Huckabee made a rather interesting statement recently:
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
Political observers, including some Republicans, are rather freaked out by this, and they certainly have cause. But what exactly does Huckabee mean about bringing the Constitution around to God's standards? Is it possible to take his statement literally?

He surely doesn't mean amending the Constitution to allow for the stoning of adulterers or the banishment of menstruating women or the death sentence for those who sow the wrong types of crops next to each other. Presumably, he means we need an amendment prohibiting abortion. Fine. Is that any more extreme than Bush talking about a creating a "culture of life" or his support for the National Right to Life Committee? Is it crazier than Bush's claim that Jesus is his favorite political philosopher? Is it more radical than John Ashcroft's statement that we have "no king but Jesus"? Is it worse than John McCain (!) saying that ours is a Judeo-Christian nation or that he supports teaching "intelligent design" in public schools?

I don't think so. The chief difference is that Huckabee is a minister, so presumably he means it. Bush et al, by contrast, are merely dogwhistle politicians, telling conservative Christians what they want to hear for political reasons. That strikes me as a ridiculous double standard.
But it does show where the lines are drawn. Interpreting the Bible to mean opposition to abortion and homosexuality is just fine. Interpreting it to mean aiding the poor? Not so much.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Michigan - Quickie reactions

Nice work, Michigan. You kept the Romney campaign alive. My Intrade portfolio thanks you.

So what lessons have we learned? First of all, despite entreaties to Democrats to raid the GOP primary and vote for Romney, there apparently wasn't a whole lot of raiding. According to exit polls, only 7% of the GOP primary electorate consisted of Democrats, and those voters preferred McCain to Romney 41-33. Interestingly, Romney got a lot of support from core Republican groups, even beating out Huckabee among white evangelicals.

The polls look to have been roughly right on this race, having detected some movement toward Romney in the last week. Indeed, the exit polls show that among those who decided their vote today (16% of the voters, allegedly), Romney beat McCain 41-25.

The exit polls reveal the general weakness of McCain's position in the GOP nomination contest. McCain's obviously popular among independents. For reasons I can't fathom, McCain is the candidate of choice among Republicans who feel negatively towards Bush and who disapprove of the war in Iraq -- despite his 100-year pledge. But these aren't the people you necessarily want on your side if you want the GOP nomination. The other folks -- those who are still loyal to Bush, still support the war, call themselves evangelicals, etc. -- are, you know, the base, and they seem to like Romney right now. That's a good position for him to be in.

I still think Romney's the guy to beat for the GOP nod. I'm not as giddy about that as some Democrats, mind you. Any Republican who can repeatedly win statewide in Massachusetts is someone to be taken seriously in a general election. But for now, at least, the GOP race is very much alive -- three contests, three different winners. And the chance for a brokered convention is now slightly greater than zero.

Come on Romney!

Just two hours left, Michigan voters. Make this one count.

Political scientists, invisible no more!

Most of us in academia labor away quietly, trying to make some small contribution to our discipline that maybe someone, somewhere will notice, probably long after our deaths.

And then there's Thad:

(h/t John Sides)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Keon Chi, rest in peace

Keon Chi, the editor of Spectrum: The Journal of State Politics and The Book of the States, recently died in a car accident. He published my very first article, which he actually solicited in person at a conference. This personal touch was much appreciated and did a lot to sustain me when I was a deeply insecure graduate student. He will be missed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Obama's polling in Colorado

I got a robo-call from ObamaAmerica today asking me my preference in the upcoming caucus. Anyone seen any CO numbers?

Endorsements going Obama's way

My impression of the Democratic race over the past few days has been that Clinton would probably get the nod. As the NH exit polls showed, Clinton seemed to be the favorite among the poor, the less educated, union members, loyal Democrats, etc., whereas Obama was winning the well-educated, wealthier, more independent voters. In other words, Obama was winning the Macintosh Democrats. That's a fine constituency to have, but previous Macintosh Democratic candidates, including Howard Dean, Gary Hart, and Paul Tsongas, have tended to lose. Adlai Stephenson is, of course, an exception, but he lost to JFK in 1960.

Now, I'm not so sure about the Democratic race. Despite Clinton's impressive and unexpected victory in New Hampshire, a number of key party elites are endorsing Obama. These endorsers include Sens. John Kerry (MA), Claire McCaskill (MO), Tim Johnson (SD), Ben Nelson (NE), and Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ). I think Josh Marshall's observation here is spot-on:
You don't hit a big time politician like Hillary Clinton when she's down unless you're really against her and you're fairly confident she's not getting back up. After winning in New Hampshire, albeit narrowly and after the clobbering in Iowa, there's been a sense that Clinton may be back on track to consolidating her frontrunner status and perhaps following a modified version of the standard script in which the anointed frontrunner gets a scare in the early states before mopping up the competition as the race goes national. But these four clearly don't want that to happen. In fact, they're sticking their necks pretty far out to help make it not happen. And their endorsements, coming right now, tell me they have some confidence it won't.
Typically, I'd expect a strong party to not even wait for the primaries. They could make som ejudgments based on candidates' statements and previous performances and jump in and back someone long before the voters even had a say. So it's less than impressive to me that these folks waited so long to endorse. What strikes me as interesting evidence of strong party behavior, however, is that these insiders who are jumping over to Obama right now are not following the media narrative, which is along the lines of "Hillary's a strong and underestimated campaigner who can come from behind and should not be counted out." They seem to be following a different script: "Look at all the advantages Hillary had, and she still lost in Iowa and only barely eeked out NH."

Meanwhile, Obama has shown considerable ability to excite voters and impress moderates without alienating core Democratic constituencies (all the more impressive given his weasely statements on Social Security). So it's not dumb for insiders to be backing him at this point. Indeed, it would be dumb to ignore the evidence voters have provided thus far.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Even more on NH polls

Responding to several worthwhile questions from Derek and Lidzville, I put together my own graph. Here, I've taken the difference between a CNN poll conducted two days before the NH primary and the actual results of the Democratic primary. (The CNN poll was pretty close to the average of polling organizations leading up to the primary.)
Once again, we see that Hillary Clinton did way better than expected, getting nearly 10 points more than the polls forecast. Obama and Richardson seem to have lost roughly two points each. That would certainly be within the poll's margin of error. So again, we see that the polls pretty much nailed the candidates' vote shares, with the exception of Clinton's, which they grossly underestimated.

To answer Lidzville's question -- where did Hillary's vote share come from? -- if you add the two points that Obama lost, the two points that Richardson lost, and the six percent who were undecided, you get all ten points that went to Hillary.

That can't be the whole story, though, since it assumes that all the undecideds went to Clinton, which the exit polls tell us just isn't true. She only had a three-point advantage over Obama among those who decided on the last day. So something's still a bit screwy here. There really was a problem with the polling on the Democratic side.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Modern presidential nominations

Dave Barry:
Let's take a moment to look back on both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, and ask ourselves if these two non-representative states -- which have, between them, roughly the same total minority population as Gladys Knight and the Pips -- should play such a huge role in selecting our presidential nominees. This is a very complex issue, with many strong arguments on both sides.

No, sorry, correction: It's actually a simple issue. The Iowa/New Hampshire system is insane. It's like a 50-table restaurant with a big, varied menu, except that only two tables are allowed to order. If these two tables order clams, for example, or Michael Dukakis, that's what gets served to all the other tables.

No race effect

Here's the clearest evidence I've seen on the subject (from Matt Yglesias):The polls got Obama's and Edwards' shares of the vote just right. They underestimated Clinton's support by a mile. Why? We'll have to work on that one.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More on NH polling

Charles Franklin and Mark Blumenthal have some good posts at trying to explain what went wrong in NH for pollsters. Some takeaway points:
  • The polls did not overestimate Obama's levels of support. Rather, they greatly underestimated Clinton's. (This would tend to negate the race effect I mentioned previously.)
  • The polls predicted the GOP share of the vote pretty well, suggesting that there was nothing systematically wrong with the way polling firms conducted their surveys. For some reason, they just really screwed up the Clinton predictions.
Why did the polls miss Clinton's share of the vote by so much? They offer some theories, including a late surge for her among undecideds and even a reluctance among Clinton supporters to answer polls.

Update: More on this topic from John Sides.

Polling problems

Take a look at the exit polls for NH when people are asked when they made up their minds:Something weird is going on here. If we assume that the exit polls are an accurate reflection of when people made up their minds and how they voted, there is a substantial shift to Obama post-Iowa, but only a modest shift back to Hillary in the final day.

If we pool the "In the last three days" (among whom Obama beat Clinton by 3 points) and the "Sometime last week" (among whom Obama beat Clinton by 15 points) categories, that accounts for 31% of the electorate, among whom Obama beat Clinton 39-32. So that would be Obama's post-Iowa momentum, which propelled him from a tie in the polls to an alleged double-digit advantage going into election day. And then Hillary totally wipes out this surge with her little 3-point advantage among the 17% of voters who decided on the last day? That's not nearly enough.

I'll buy that there was a late surge for Hillary, and that it was probably fueled by sympathy for her and for female candidates in general, and may have been crystallized when she cried in Portsmouth or during her impressive debate performance. (And it may have even been caused by Chris Matthews.) But the same-day surge toward Hillary reported in the exit polls is just not consistent with all the tracking polls we were seeing right up to election day. It seems to me that Obama's poll position in New Hampshire has been way overstated all along.

Another possibility is that independent voters, who were expected to show up for Obama, instead participated in the GOP primary and voted for McCain. But the exit polls don't really support that. 42% of the Democratic electorate was independent, compared with 34% of the Republican electorate. And the Democratic electorate was much larger than the Republican one (284,000 Dems compared to 233,000 Reps).

So what's going on here? Was it really a race effect?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A race effect?

Is it possible that Obama underperformed in NH because more people said they would vote for a black man than actually would? I doubt that was worth ten points, but it might have been something.

Notably, there was no such effect in Iowa, which was a public caucus. There'd be a stigma at a caucus for publicly saying you wouldn't vote for a black man. Behind the ballot booth, people can do what they want.

Exit polls are up

MSNBC has a nice summary. The breakdown between Clinton and Obama is really interesting. Clinton won the traditional Democratic constituencies - poorer voters, union members, Catholics, less educated folks, etc. Obama won the younger, wealthier, more educated, self-decribed independents, etc. -- the Macintosh people. The same people who backed Gary Hart, Adlai Stevenson, Howard Dean, yadda yadda. Think about it.

Oh, and Clinton won by 12 points among women, unlike what happened in Iowa.

Update: The late deciders are interesting. Obama beat Clinton among those who decided in the last three days, 37-34. Clinton beat Obama among those who decided today, 39-36. That's not a huge shift, but given that 17% of voters reported having decided today, that may have made the difference.

Momentum, schmomentum

Hillary Clinton has narrowly won the New Hampshire primary. That is pretty friggin' amazing. Just about all the polls had her trailing Obama significantly, some by double digits. Now it looks like she's won by around three points. Of course, that's what the polls looked like before the Iowa Caucuses. The surge in Obama's polls standing came after his surprise victory there. This was labeled "momentum." Turns out it was a bunch of hooey.

What actually happened? Were people lying in the polls? Probably a lot of the inaccuracy came from the fact that there were large numbers of undecided voters right up until this morning. This went largely unreported by the media, who glommed onto the Obama-rising/we're-sick-of-the-Clintons narrative. So it's possible a lot of these late-deciders went Clinton's way. I'm looking forward to seeing some exit polls on this. What might have changed their mind? Did a lot of people finally get pissed at the sexist crap dished out at Clinton? Did they decide they liked her detailed plans for her presidency as opposed to Obama's vague hopefulness?

I'm also curious what happened with independents. The assumption was that most of NH's independent voters would enter the Democratic primary to vote for Obama. But maybe a lot of them chose to participate on the GOP side to put McCain over the top. Still, given how many more people participated on the Democratic side than on the Republican side, I'd guess that a lot of independents participated in the Dem. primary and went with Clinton. Pretty amazing.

New Hampshire results by town

I apologize for anything negative I've said about the Politico. This is a really nice resource.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Dixville Notch

The first results from New Hampshire are in. The tiny town up north has cast the following votes:

Obama 7
Edwards 2
Richardson 1

McCain 4
Romney 2
Giuliani 1

Whoa, no votes for Clinton, Thompson, or Paul! Don't read too much into this.

What's so great about Obama?

I mean this sincerely. I've seen students, friends, and loved ones get all weepy about wanting to vote for him. Even Ari Kelman, whom I count on for a healthy dose of cynicism, had this to say about the post Iowa speeches:
"John Edwards, when he spoke, made me proud to be a Democrat; Obama made me proud to be an American."
As Iowa showed, all this swooning actually affects voting behavior - Obama is pulling people into the political process.

But seriously, what is it? Is it that vague sort of charisma that JFK had? I'm rather fond of most of JFK's policy stances, but, honestly, he got elected in part because a lot of young people looked at him and said, "Gee, wouldn't it be swell if he were president?" I get a lot of that same sense from Obama's supporters.

And I suppose race figures in here somewhere. Do white liberals just really want to see a black man as president because of all that would mean? And here's one who just might be electable?

I mean no criticism of him; I just don't fully get the allure. He comes off quite competent and articulate, but then so do Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. And I feel like I know less about him and what he would do as president than I do about Clinton and Edwards at this point, despite dozens of debates and speeches.

What is it?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Undecideds

Christopher Hayes' 2004 profile of undecided voters is awfully entertaining and a trifle scary at times. Though far from scientific, the findings are actually consistent with a good deal of literature on voting behavior. I particularly enjoyed this section, in which Hayes notes that the undecided actually do think about politics, but seem unable to link politics to events in their own lives:
I had a conversation with an undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman's car after having worked a week straight. He didn't think the accident was his fault and he was angry about being sued. "There's too many lawsuits these days," he told me. I was set to have to rebut a "tort reform" argument, but it never came. Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn't think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. "The last job was unionized," he said. "They would have covered my expenses." I tried to steer him towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers' rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn't seem to think there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He made neither, and remained undecided.


Have you noticed that pretty much every time Huckabee has appeared on a stage in the past week - whether in Iowa or New Hampshire - he's had Chuck Norris standing right next to him? That's smart for the campaign - Norris is certainly their best known backer. But Chuck Norris is really busting his ass here. This has got to be at least as much of a workout as beating up Abdul Rifai.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Taking a break from presidential nominations for a moment, here's a clip from Conan O'Brian's show the other night. I know I'm not supposed to be watching, he's violating the strike, etc. But at 5:58, he starts doing an impression of Edith Bunker singing the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage." It's one of the most brilliant things I've ever heard.

Everything you need to know about party nominations, in 1,059 words

Historian Ari Kelman at Edge of the American West asked me to chime in and explain just how American presidential nominations work. You can read the post here.

Sending a message

To the excellent critiques of the Iowa Caucus news coverage, let me just add the following. (This comes from a colleague who occasionally comments on this site under the nom de plume "Anonymous.")

According to the New York Times, Iowan Democrats turned out for Barack Obama in record numbers either "because they were eager to leave behind the bitter divides of the last two decades or because they wanted to send a message that a small white state could transcend the issue of race." Yes, it's possible that a hundred thousand white Democrats conspired to send a message of racial tolerance to the rest of the nation. It's also possible that, I dunno, Obama's maternal relatives are midwestern farmers, and he might have been able to relate to Iowans better than lawyers from New York or North Carolina could.

I'm not saying our nation is beyond race, but it's certainly possible that factors other than race are at play in this election, and that Obama might bring something to the table beyond just melanin.


It begins.

Who is the establishment?

A commenter (yes, I get those!) asked who I was referring to when I talked about the "GOP establishment" -- those people whom I predict are going to crush Huckabee.

A lot of this comes out of the forthcoming book that I often mention, The Party Decides, by Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller (you can read the manuscript in its current form here). The big finding in that book is that between 1980 and 2000, key party insiders - defined as governors (who endorse outside their state), senators, members of Congress, interest group leaders, major donors, opinion journalists, and a few others - have picked favorite candidates for the presidential nominations. They reward those candidates with endorsements and help channel funding their way. These endorsements (properly weighted) end up doing a much better job predicting who will win a party's nomination that polls, money, or momentum, whatever the hell that is. Indeed, the insider's candidate always got the nomination during this time period.

These authors just put out a new paper about the current cycle, which I mentioned previously. Figure 1 (at left - click to enlarge) demonstrates the above argument nicely. In the 1970s, the party insiders had not yet mastered the reforms that created the current system of primaries and caucuses. McGovern (1972) and Carter (1976) were able to win the nomination despite not being the consensus choice of party insiders. By 1980, however, the candidate with the most endorsements was always getting the nomination.

This year, the Republican party is kind of fractured. According to these authors, Romney has the plurality of endorsements, but only to the extent that Dukakis did back in 1988. That graph appears below:Additionally, only 8 of the 22 sitting Republican governors have even bothered to endorse this year. It seems clear, though, that the insiders have not coordinated on Huckabee. He could end up being this year's Howard Dean: the insiders aren't sure who they want, they just don't want him. Of course, they also don't want McCain, for reasons that this TPM commenter eloquently states.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa: Quickie Reactions

I was expecting something close to a tie on the Democratic side. That Obama won by as much as he did caught me off guard. I'm impressed. The story on Howard Dean in 2004 was that he had these legions of young volunteers who had met on-line and were eager to help out in Iowa, and yet they didn't show up. Obama's folks actually showed up. (Disclaimer: a student of mine is there right now working for Obama and is reportedly over the moon.) I'm still not convinced Obama will be the nominee, but he's been looking good in New Hampshire lately, and tonight's win may give him a bump in terms of funding and poll support there.

I had figured that Edwards was going to win in Iowa or withdraw -- now I'm not so sure. He can at least claim that he defeated Hillary Clinton, which is pretty huge for him. But he's liable to get beat up pretty bad in NH. Clinton, meanwhile, could afford to lose in Iowa. She could potentially lose in NH and still become the nominee. But yes, it gets harder for her.

On the Republican side, Huckabee also had a surprisingly good night. Now's where the fun begins. A lot of the GOP establishment simply despises him. Now they have to crush him. Presumably, they'll do so by supporting Romney, but McCain could do well in NH, which keeps things somewhat muddied.

So, as expected, Iowa hasn't made any candidates, but it has broken several. Dodd and Biden are out. A few others may shortly drop.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brooks on the GOP nomination

Following up on my previous post, David Brooks sees the GOP as having more or less converged on Romney, but he claims that Romney has been forced to remake himself as an unelectable candidate in the process:
The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins.
I love that line.

Have the parties decided?

The authors of The Party Decides (forthcoming from University of Chicago Press) make a strong case that, in the wake of 1970s reforms designed to disempower party insiders from controlling nominations, those same insiders managed to re-assert control of the process anyway. Party elites determined every presidential party nomination from 1980 to 2000, and even if Kerry wasn't the consensus choice of Democratic insiders in 2004, they did manage to keep Dean from gaining the nomination.

So what's happening this year? Several weird things. For one, the Democrats seem more organized than the Republicans. Democratic insiders have more or less converged on Hillary Clinton as their candidate, even if polling out of Iowa and New Hampshire remains way too close to call. Republican insiders have kinda converged on Romney, but the party surprisingly never unified. All their candidates seem flawed. As the TPD authors nicely sum up in an interesting new paper:
Rudy Giuliani is unacceptable to social conservatives because he favors abortion rights, gun control, and gay rights; John McCain is unacceptable to party loyalists because of his failure to support the GOP agenda consistently in his Senate votes; Mitt Romney is unacceptable because he converted too late to issues that social conservatives care about and because some are distrustful of his Mormon faith; Mike Huckabee raised taxes while governor of Arkansas and has expressed populist and protectionist sentiments recently, which makes him anathema to economic conservatives. Fred Thompson is widely acceptable within the party and initially seemed to be the unifying figure many Republicans hoped for, but has demonstrated a disconcerting lack of energy on the campaign trail. It seems odd that a party that faces no particularly divisive issues would be unable to find a candidate capable of bridging its normal factional divisions and willing to campaign hard for nomination, but such is the case in the Republican Party this year.
So where are the parties this year? Well, they're not doing nothing. At the very least, the dramatic undoing of Rudy Giuliani shows that social conservatives still have some power within the party. Here was a popular national figure who was the clear choice of a plurality of GOP voters all through 2007, but he couldn't get it together for the early contests, and it looks all but certain that he's toast. This is at least partially because of the work of folks like James Dobson, who claimed that a Giuliani victory would actually be worse for his movement that a Hillary Clinton victory. However, other candidates, like McCain or Huckabee, who are clearly not the favorites of party insiders, still have a decent shot at the nomination at this point.

Similarly, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will likely get nominated, but Iowa is a three-way tossup right now, and she faces serious competition from Obama in New Hampshire. She could certainly handle one of those losses, but if either Obama or Edwards managed to take both Iowa and New Hampshire, that could destroy her candidacy, or at least seriously wound it.

The insiders may pull it off: Romney and Clinton will probably be the nominees. But it's way too close right now. And even if Romney does it, his insider status pales in comparison to those of most earlier contests.

Update: Link to paper fixed - now free - thanks to the Monkey Cage.