Friday, October 31, 2008

The infomercial

Am I the only one who just wasn't all that impressed by Obama's 30-minute ad buy on Wednesday night? I mean, the production value was very high (it did look like an episode of Friday Night Lights), the profiles of the struggling families were good, and the live speech part was nice. But a lot of it was just his biographic film, which is great, but was already seen by pretty much everyone during the convention. Plus, there just wasn't much new in there (except that he's apparently now giving you a tax cut if you make less than $200,000, rather than $250,000 -- why isn't McCain exploiting that?).

Now, I get the reason for not putting much new in there. Obama's got his message down. It's gotten through and it's working. He's ahead. There's no need for him to shake stuff up at this point. It's just a matter of closing the deal, restating his message and keeping it professional. And he certainly did that. But I guess I was just hoping for more sizzle.

Passing the time until Tuesday night

If you have any spare time between now and Tuesday night, I strongly urge you to get out there and make phone calls or campaign door to door for the candidates you care about. That stuff works. If you can't do this, but you're obsessed anyway, I imagine you'll be trolling the internet for the latest opinion polls and projections. Here's my list of sites I visit roughly every 15 minutes to check for polling and forecast updates:
  • -- Great maps and charts, along with helpful links to each of the latest state and national polls.
  • -- Constantly updated polling averages, along with a wide ideological array of news analysis articles.
  • -- This has been a real gem this year and a welcome addition to the field. Nate Silver brings his wizardry from the world of sports analysis to politics, using a sophisticated series of equations to eliminate the biases among individual polling houses to effectively forecast elections in each state. Nice bits of polling analysis, too.
  • Drew Linzer's Poll Tracker -- Drew tries to keep it simple by doing Bayesian updates on all the tracking polls in the battleground states. He also uses these numbers to estimate the probability that the candidates will win each state.
Any other good ones I'm missing?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Some squirrel nibbled the continent of South America on one of my pumpkins. It's freaking me out.

The message is getting through

My six-year old son picked up a toy jaguar this morning and announced, "I'm jaguar, and I approved this message."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Picking on Palin

A month ago, I wouldn't have thought Obama would go after Palin. But she's clearly become a vulnerability for McCain, which Obama exploits in this ad:

It actually harkens back to this ad from 1988, one of the few moments of harshness from Dukakis:

More impersonators!

Apparently, the Musgrave approach of hiring an impersonator of your opponent is catching on. Liddy Dole is doing the same thing, using an impersonator of her opponent to say, "There is no God."

I half hope some of these ads work. This promises an incredibly fun trend in political advertising.

"A Very Small Group of People"

This article probably ran on the front page of today's Denver Post because it's another case of Republican in-fighting in advance of a likely electoral rout. But it also happens to be a great parties story.

Former Rep. Scott McInnis wanted to run for Colorado's open Senate seat this year but was pressured out of doing so by both state and national Republicans, who had already settled on former Rep. Bob Schaffer for the nomination. The article makes it sound like kind of a personal thing, since Schaffer was once roommates with Sen. John Ensign, chair of the NRSC. But you could also see it as an ideological miscalculation: Schaffer is much more conservative than McInnis,* but the state GOP figured it could get an actual conservative into statewide office this year.

*In the 107th House, Schaffer's 1st dimension NOMINATE score was .849, McInnis' was .495. Those scores run from -1 to +1, with +1 being the most conservative position.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New ad technique

This is a truly impressive ad. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, running for her political life in Colorado's 4th CD, is attacking her Democratic challenger, Betsy Markey, by using a Markey impersonator in an ad. I really don't recall seeing anything like this before.

The possibilities are limitless. Maybe McCain could run an ad in which an Obama impersonator sets bombs next to preschools while screaming "God damn America!" And Obama could run ads in which a McCain impersonator stands there and says, "I'm a stupid moron, with an ugly face, and a big butt, and my butt smells, and I like to kiss my own butt."

The Rev. Wright, at last

The National Republican Trust PAC is funding an ad about Rev. Wright. McCain has said this issue was off limits. What does McCain do now? Distance himself from it? Defend it? Got me curious.

Tightening up? Not so much

Chris Bowers at Open Left helpfully notes that the real trend of the past four weeks has been stasis.

(h/t Atrios)

Luke was an idiot

Here's a nice list of five reasons why Luke Skywalker was an idiot. I agree with four of them (one of which I described at some length here). I disagree that Luke made a bad decision by not joining the Dark Side, as Luke had a pretty good prospective career ahead of him as the next Yoda.

Fear of a Black Electorate

I'm wondering if there's some nefarious interplay between white fear and early voting. According to a discussion on yesterday's "Meet the Press," African American turnout has been enormous in Southern states that allow early voting, such as Georgia. What is the reaction of whites voters with less than positive views toward blacks who see blacks turning out to vote in enormous numbers? They might not be able to do anything about it when everyone votes on the same day. But when you have a few weeks to organize an opposition, does high black turnout stimulate high white turnout?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

100,000 people

100,000 people turned out to see Obama in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver this morning. My wife got some great shots, including this one:This was also a great opportunity for me to start indoctrinating the kids:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Clever stuff out West

Via Ezra Klein, here's an ad that's currently running in California against Prop. 8, the initiative that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriages, which are currently legal:

A silver lining for McCain?

Sunshine Hillygus recently came to visit my school and gave some wonderful lectures on the 2008 election. She suggested a few things that, while hardly suggesting an impending McCain victory, do give Obama supporters reason to be cautious in their optimism. Among her points:
  • The enthusiasm gap is a double-edged sword. Yes, Obama supporters are far more enthusiastic than McCain supporters. That might give them a turnout advantage, but it also means that Obama supporters are more likely to respond to surveys than McCain supporters. So Obama supporters could be over-represented in most of the polls.
  • The independents include a lot of former Republicans. There's been a sharp decline in the number of self-identified Republicans in recent years. That doesn't mean they've become Democrats. More likely, they're conservatives who are disillusioned with the Bush administration and are now calling themselves independents. With Bush off the ticket, these conservatives are likely to come home to the Republican Party.
  • Obama's biggest supporters are still those who don't turn out to vote as much. Younger voters, poorer voters, and African Americans just don't turn out to vote as much as older, wealthier whites.
All these things may be true, although there are still a number of reasons why polls may be understating Obama's true support levels (i.e.: the pollsters are missing cell phone users and lots of first time voters, etc.). I tend to think that these things will balance out and the election results will closely mirror the polls. But her points are well taken.

So much for that theory

74% of American Jews are supporting Obama. This is just about how Kerry did among Jews in 2004. Gallup breaks it down nicely.

(h/t John Sides)

Wassup, Eight Years Later

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Planning Election Night

In a move of inspired cockiness, Robert Farley combines recent state-level polling with the state poll closing times to estimate that Obama will have passed 270 electoral votes by 9pm EST, or 7pm here in Denver. I'm not even supposed to be at my election returns watching party until 8.

Premature Musgrave withdrawal

Republican strategy in the final days of this election season continues to baffle me. Word has it that the NRCC has pulled its funding for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado's 4th CD. Musgrave has always run worse that she should have in what's usually a pretty conservative district, and maybe they're just tired of defending her. Also, her opponent, Betsy Markey, is pretty sharp.

But this race shouldn't be over. I haven't seen this week's polling, but the most recent ones I saw had this race pretty tight, and Musgrave is usually a strong closer. I'd be curious to see the NRCC's calculations in writing this one off.

I'd bet the Republicans would really like to have another $150,000 to throw around in some competitive races right now.

McCain hires the pros

Mixed messages

Okay, maybe the McCain campaign is pulling out of Colorado. As the Denver Post reports this morning, McCain has hugely scaled back his ad buys in the state. Then again, both McCain and Palin are coming to the Denver area on Friday for rallies.

My impression is, if you've decided a state is unwinnable, and you have dwindling campaign resources, you do not spend any of those resources in that state. Candidate time is a precious resource. Why are they wasting it here?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Weak mailer

I used to work in the political direct mail business. Not everything we did was brilliant, but we tried to put some thought and effort into mailers. So I was somewhat disheartened when I received this mailer, paid for by the RNSC, the other day:A few critiques:
  1. If the RNSC is really hurting for funds and needs to protect incumbents like Liddy Dole, why are they wasting money by sending pro-gun, pro-Republican mailers to me? How lousy are these lists?
  2. There is very little stuff specific to Udall or Colorado in the mailer. It comes off like a cookie-cutter guns mailer, onto which one can paste pretty much any Democrat's picture. I'm guessing that's what it is. Pretty cheap.
  3. Why is Udall wearing a pink shirt? Are they suggesting that, in addition to (or because of) his support for handgun control, Udall is gay? That's a reach.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mail Goggles

Google is friggin' brilliant. They just came up with Mail Goggles. If you enable it, it prevents you from sending ill-advised drunken e-mails on late weekend nights. After a certain time of day, you have to perform a sobriety test, answering several math questions correctly within a set time limit. If you can't do it, you'll have to wait to send your e-mail (or reconsider sending it) until the next morning.

Strategic ambiguity

The Obama campaign entered October with $133 million cash on hand. The McCain campaign had just $46.9 million at that time. This election is approaching a condition of asymmetric warfare. McCain is defending loyally Republican states while traditional battlegrounds are leaning Obama, and McCain is outgunned.

What does McCain do in this situation? One possibility is deception: trying to confuse the opponent into thinking you're fighting where you're not. That could explain what's been going on in Colorado.

As Coloradopols has been noting, yesterday some McCain staffers virtually conceded Colorado to Obama, suggesting they would mount a last-ditch effort to re-take electoral vote-rich Pennsylvania instead. Then this morning they said they're still fighting for Colorado. This comes on the heels of the RNC saying they were giving up on the Bob Schaffer Senate campaign and then that they weren't giving up on it.

The pessimistic Democrat in me tends to see such moves as part of a brilliant plan of strategic ambiguity. Democrats can't figure out where to fight the Republicans, who keep changing the battleground. Of course, it's always possible that the Republicans, following McCain's piƱata approach to campaigning, are completely floundering right now and can't figure out what they're doing. I couldn't help but notice that the guy who denied McCain's pullout from Colorado is regional spokesperson Tom Kise, who is probably the first guy cut from the payroll if the rumor is true.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Local Powells

On the same day that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama, LaughingBoy, a Republican writer at Coloradopols, decided to do the same. The whole post is worth a read. But LaughingBoy seemed to have particular animus toward those on the right who dismissed Powell's endorsement as nothing but racial solidarity:
I agree with everything he said, but for Powell's endorsement, he gets comments on blogs that I normally really like for their elevated discourse comments like "Well, blood must be thicker than water." Well, fuck you. The corn in Colin Powell's crap has more patriotism than you claim to be espousing, so if you are unable to listen to what this hero says and write it off to a 'black thing', then you deserve every marginalization that's coming your way.

Airport security theater

Ezra Klein notes this interesting article by Jeffrey Goldberg on the rise of "airport security theater": the rituals we are forced to endure at airports that give the impression of greater security without providing much actual security. Ezra then makes the following excellent point:
Successive moments in the ceaseless march of airport security have been... oddly interpreted: The shoe bomber failed, but now we all remove our shoes. The liquid bombers were a joke, but now we can't carry toothpaste on a plane. In Goldberg's article, he says we've built a security state around yesterday's threats. That's true, but it almost gives us too much credit: Much of the security state is built around yesterday's failed threats. It's like hearing a robber deterred by your deadbolt and responding by replacing your door with six inches of heavily fortified, extremely expensive, steel. And our strange decisions create new vulnerabilities: The awkward and slow screening system means more travelers are gathered at security checkpoints. But the screening happens at the end of the checkpoint. Until then, travelers are utterly unexamined. A suicide bomber could walk into that line and murder hundreds, having much the same effect on national travel as if he'd downed a plane.

Doing the tighten-up?

The latest polling trend lines suggest that the presidential race is tightening a little bit. Of course, they pretty much always do in the final weeks. Keep in mind that it's almost unheard of for a major party candidate running in a non-incumbent presidential election to get less than 45% of the vote. McCain, whose numbers are currently in the low-40s, is likely to see some improvement as Republican-leaning independents find their way home. Also, Obama's most recent surge in the polls was largely driven by the financial sector crisis. The crisis still exists, but people are getting used to it as the status quo. You just can't leave your jaw scraping on the ground every day.

But why the sudden turnaround? I was somewhat surprised to see the jump in McCain's numbers right after the third debate, which the public overwhelmingly determined to be an Obama victory. Is it possible that the Joe the Plumber gambit is working (although evidence says otherwise)? Or maybe some conservative independents, even if they thought Obama won the debate, liked the pugnacious McCain, and it made them feel better about the Republican ticket. Or maybe McCain's robo-calls are getting some traction.

It's just frankly hard to know at this point. The most recent round of polls have Obama up slightly and McCain down slightly, on average, since yesterday, but the individual polls are all over the place. And it'll be a day or two before the polls capture the effects of Powell's endorsement (although I'm guessing it'll be pretty modest, if even detectable).

The important thing to keep in mind is that McCain is likely to get at least 45% of the vote. Does he get there by convincing the undecideds to back him, or does he pull it from Obama's share? That strikes me as the key question. Keep your eyes on Obama's numbers. Also, watch the state numbers.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My map

Okay, I'm forcing my students to put in their Electoral College predictions early this week, so I figured I ought to pony up, as well. This map, made with the help of 270towin, is based on intense poll-watching, combined with some degree of intuition, the knowledge that elections usually tighten up in the final weeks, and random guesses. At any rate, I'm predicting Obama wins with 318 Electoral votes to McCain's 220.
I feel pretty confident about most of these states, but I remain unsure about Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. Obama's numbers in Ohio have been running two to three points behind his national numbers, and I'm just not sure whether he'll pull it out, although I think he has a slightly better shot at holding Florida.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber

I appreciate McCain's strategy behind his highlighting of Joe the Plumber during Wednesday's debate. McCain wanted to change the media narrative which has largely been about him losing this election. So McCain's strategy was to move the goalposts. Sure, Obama may be winning in the polls, but has he won the support of the everyman, Joe the Plumber? Until he's done that, he hasn't closed the deal. And McCain knows from experience that the media just can't resist stories like that.

Now, of course, from what we know about him, Joe the Plumber looks nothing like the median voter in this country. He's a self-described conservative and a registered Republican. Folks like that are currently in the minority. Obama never had much of a chance of winning him over. But at least for a few days, it changes the story to McCain's advantage.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Teddy Roosevelt was the Progressive Era's Chuck Norris

Eric at Edge of the American West provides the fascinating story of the events of October 14th, 1912. Teddy Roosevelt, running for president under the Bull Moose Party's banner, was shot in the chest shortly before delivering a speech in Milwaukee. He went on to deliver the hour-long speech (quite a good one, actually) covered in his own blood.

I have mixed feelings toward TR. I find his obsession with manliness and proving oneself in battle to be embarrassing. At times, he sounds like a teen-aged Klingon impersonator at a Star Trek convention. So it's nice to know he could occasionally back up his tough talk with some true bad-assedness.

What should McCain do now?

McCain promised he'd bring the noise in tonight's debate. Well, he brought the noise, and it apparently didn't add up to much. Uncommitted viewers gave Obama the win in the debate by roughly two to one, according to CBS. Maybe that will change -- a lot of pundits seemed to be impressed by McCain's performance, and that can affect the perceptions of those who didn't watch tonight. But I'm guessing the story tomorrow is that McCain was tough but failed to truly shake up the race.

I just heard David Gergen on CNN basically saying that it's over. McCain's best strategy, he said, is to pull all his negative ads, go positive to improve his own legacy, and devote what resources he can to saving as many Senate and House seats as possible for the Republicans.

It seems clear that whatever could cause McCain to win this election will not actually come from the McCain campaign. The major shifts in this race have largely come from outside events, most notably the economic meltdown and bailout bill. Arguably, McCain should be campaigning as though the race were closer. That means running aggressive ads, maintaining a ground game in places like Florida and Ohio, etc. If the game-changing event comes, he'll be prepared. If it doesn't, he wasn't going to win anyway.

What might such a game-changing event be? Basically, anything that takes Americans' minds off the economy, such as...
  • Bin Laden releasing a tape essentially endorsing Obama.
  • Russians invading Alaska, held at bay by stick-weilding hockey moms.
  • Photos of Obama with a goatee holding an AK-47 by an open window are released.
  • Joe the Plumber strapping himself to a bomb and blowing himself up inside an Ohio sewage plant.
Such things are unlikely, but not completely implausible. I can't imagine a presidential candidate conceding the race three weeks before the election. You may as well give it your all. You never know what's going to happen.

Et tu, Old Dominion?

Hey, when did Virginia turn blue? Yikes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Minot Madness

Well, I finally got used to the idea that West Virginia is a tossup state, so I'm innocently glancing at the latest on Pollster, and OMG NORTH DAKOTA IS A TOSSUP!!!

I'm having a cow.

Trust your alien friends

Lidzville reports that V is back! Scott Peters, the creator of "The 4400" and "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," is apparently putting together an update of V on ABC.

If you never watched "V" back in the mid-80s, it was just an awesome mini-series about a race of technologically advanced aliens who come to visit Earth and share their discoveries with us. It turns out they have a much darker agenda, though, which involves eating us and stealing our water. Oh, and they're lizards. Anyway, it's got lots of stuff in there about patriotism, control of the masses, resistance to oppression, etc. Lots of good politics and Holocaust parallels. The original miniseries eventually spawned "V: The Final Battle," which was a pretty entertaining conclusion to the series with a ridiculous ending. Then that spawned "V: The Series," which sucked in about 80 different ways. But I'm hopeful for the new effort.

This news totally made my day, and I can assume it's the reason that the stock market rallied.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The R Word

This McClatchy article focuses on the L word ("landslide") but also slips in a mention of the R word ("realignment").
Barring a dramatic change in the political landscape over the next three weeks, Democrats appear headed toward a decisive victory on Election Day that would give them broad power over the federal government.

The victory would send Barack Obama to the White House and give him larger Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — and perhaps a filibuster-proof margin there.

That could mark a historic realignment of the country's politics on a scale with 1932 or 1980, when the out party was given power it held for a generation, and used it to transform government's role in American society.

The term "realignment" is thrown around pretty regularly in presidential election years, with little consensus on what it actually means. The accepted political science definition is a sudden and durable shift in voter loyalties toward the parties, usually involving the introduction of a new set of issues. So, for example, there was a realignment in the 1850s when voters essentially stopped voting on economics and started voting on slavery. This killed off the Whig party and allowed for the rise of the anti-slavery Republicans, while forcing the Democrats to abandon their northern allies and focus on becoming an exclusively pro-slavery party. Some even reject the idea that 1932 was a realignment, since the parties really didn't shift positions on anything; there were just suddenly a lot more Democrats in office.

Could we be seeing a realignment this year? My impression is that the electorate isn't really realigning on any new set of issues. Republicans and Democrats largely seem to believe what they have for years. Republicans are just in a bad position this year due to the economy and several wars.

On the other hand, voters' opinions toward the economy are in flux right now and aren't necessarily falling along party lines. If the congressional vote on the budget bailout was any indicator, there's a lot of hostility toward the government's actions. There could be room for an alliance of bailout opponents: Republicans who believe failing businesses should be allowed to fail and Democrats who do not feel they should have to pay for Wall Street's errors. I'm not sure what such an alliance would end up looking like or if it would have any durability.

Regardless of whether this election meets the proper definition of realignment, it could fall along the lines of 1932 and 1980, where the new party in power will have a considerable mandate to shape policy for a decade or two. Interesting times.


Here's a nice article on the work the presidential campaigns are doing to get people involved and to make sure they vote. While reasonably even-handed, the article can't help but note the organizational advantages that Democrats appear to have this year.

Personal anecdote: this weekend, my parents did some phone banking for Obama, and my brother actually held a phone banking session at his house. (People bring their cell phones, the campaign provides the lists, the host may provide food.) While my brother cares about politics, it's hardly his bread and butter. It would be like me organizing a fantasy baseball league or a March Madness betting pool.

So I am impressed on two levels. First, that my family is so eagerly involved. Second, that the Obama campaign is organized enough to tap these people who are hardly seasoned activists and get them working for the campaign. I imagine that cell phones were universal enough that campaigns could have done similar activities four years ago. Did Kerry ever ask anyone to host a phone banking session in her home for his campaign?

The Obama campaign will, I think, be studied for years for its organizational innovations.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bartels' forecast

In an e-mail to Ezra Klein, Larry Bartels adds to the chorus of economic models and polling forecasts that predict Obama winning the popular vote by around 6 points. Then he adds some interesting caveats:
This calculation ignores (at least) three important factors. First, there is a fairly strong tendency for late shifts in preferences to favor the incumbent party when the economy is strong and the out-party when the economy is weak; that makes Sen. Obama's position stronger than it looks in current polls. Second, there is more uncertainty than usual this year about who will actually turn out to vote, suggesting that the polls may be more wrong than usual; however, given the pattern of new registrations and the apparent strength of the two campaigns' voter mobilization efforts, Sen. Obama seems more likely to benefit than to lose support from unexpected turnout. Third, the possibility that undecided white voters may, in the end, be unable to bring themselves to vote for Sen. Obama on racial grounds makes his position somewhat more precarious than it would otherwise be. It is very difficult to estimate the importance of the racial factor (that is, the extent to which racial antipathy is not already reflected in current polls), but my guess is that this is less important than the other two factors, both of which seem likely to work in Sen. Obama's favor.
We're all groping around in the dark to some extent on this. Social scientists generally like to change one variable at a time. i.e.: What's the effect of a black presidential candidate? Well, let's run 2000 again only make Gore black and see what happens. This year's election has changed about 20 different variables. It's more like, let's run 2000 again, only make Bush more moderate, make Gore black, make Cheney a woman, have the economy collapse, throw in an unpopular war or two, etc. This is no way to run an experiment.

More Mountain State madness

The McCain campaign is apparently sending Palin on a bus tour of West Virginia, suggesting that they now view it as a tossup state. Similarly, they sent her to Nebraska last week to try to save Omaha's one electoral vote. A very curious use of a principal's time.

Update: Wise counsel from Nate Silver:
McCain is getting some criticism for campaigning in Iowa, and for sending Sarah Palin out to West Virginia, but the truth is that their electoral hand is so poor right now that it doesn't much matter in which states they're deciding to bide their time. Remember, any world in which McCain has a chance to win on Election Day is a world that looks very different from this one -- some significant event will have to have occurred to fundamentally change the momentum of the race.

Shark Jesus

Doesn't the Book of Daniel describe the Antichrist as rising from the sea? With everything else going on this week, the last thing we need is spontaneous shark gestation.

(h/t Ezra Klein)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mountain State

West Virginia is now a tossup state? West Virginia? If Obama wins West Virginia, I'll eat a bug.

Heh? HEH?

Like Howard Dean's scream, this video is a reminder that speeches often sound very different recorded than they do if you're in the room. I'm guessing McCain came off just fine in the crowd. It sounds weird now, though.

Not only Mama's smile... your eyes

An easy fast to all who are fasting today. And if you can't make it to temple, you can always watch the touching Kol Nidre scene from Neil Diamond's "The Jazz Singer" at home.

(Come to think of it, you can watch this scene on an iPhone while in temple. Best of both worlds.)

Terror produces conservative voters

Now this is an interesting finding. Claude Berrebi and Esteban Klor have done a study of voting behavior and terror bombings in Israel and found that terrorism leads to support for the conservative party, although the effect is very local and short-term. From the abstract:
This article relies on the variation of terror attacks across time and space as an instrument to identify the causal effects of terrorism on the preferences of the Israeli electorate. We find that the occurrence of a terror attack in a given locality within three months of the elections causes an increase of 1.35 percentage points on that locality’s support for the right bloc of political parties out of the two blocs vote. This effect is of a significant political magnitude because of the high level of terrorism in Israel and the fact that its electorate is closely split between the right and left blocs. Moreover, a terror fatality has important electoral effects beyond the locality where the attack is perpetrated, and its electoral impact is stronger the closer to the elections it occurs. Interestingly, in left-leaning localities, local terror fatalities cause an increase in the support for the right bloc, whereas terror fatalities outside the locality increase the support for the left bloc of parties. Given that a relatively small number of localities suffer terror attacks, we demonstrate that terrorism does cause the ideological polarization of the electorate. Overall, our analysis provides strong empirical support for the hypothesis that the electorate shows a highly sensitive reaction to terrorism.
I guess the creepiest part is that the N was high enough to get statistically significant results.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where does the race go from here?

The consensus among the pundits after last night's debate seemed to be that the presidential election belongs to Obama, unless something really wacky and unforeseen occurs. Voters at this point are preferring Obama on the economy, and a huge majority of Americans say that the economy is the most important issue. So unless something more beneficial to McCain becomes the hot issue (Russians invading Alaska, held at bay by lipstick-wearing hockey moms?), it's hard to see McCain winning.

That said, Obama may well be at or near the ceiling of his potential support level. The trend lines at Pollster seem to be showing both candidates' support flattening out, with Obama holding just above 49 and McCain just above 43. Each candidate has gained about 0.1 percentage points for each of the past few days, suggesting that undecideds are, very slowly, making up their minds and splitting between the two candidates. As Nate Silver at 538 points out, for Obama to get much more, he'll have to start picking up the racist vote, and that's just not likely to happen. Meanwhile, in an open-seat presidential race, the loser almost never goes below 45% of the vote, suggesting that McCain isn't likely to drop any lower than where he is today.

On top of that, elections tend to tighten up a bit in the final few weeks. That's not a great cause for Obama supporters to worry -- he doesn't have to pick up that many of the undecideds to put him over the top -- but it is something to keep in mind. The media will grow tired of reporting the status quo for another four weeks. Soon the story will be McCain's modest surge. Is it Palin? Is it McCain? Is it the new thuggish campaign? Don't let it throw you; it's typical in an election.

Right now I'd say the campaign dynamics are on target for a roughly 5-point Obama win. We'll see....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New button

via Daily Kos

Elections and the economy

The headline one year from today: "[Obama/McCain]'s economic policies bearing fruit"

Larry Bartels:
Considering America’s Depression-era politics in comparative perspective reinforces the impression that there may have been a good deal less real policy content to “throwing the bums out” than meets the eye. In the U.S., voters replaced Republicans with Democrats and the economy improved. In Britain and Australia, voters replaced Labor governments with conservatives and the economy improved. In Sweden, voters replaced Conservatives with Liberals, then with Social Democrats, and the economy improved. In the Canadian agricultural province of Saskatchewan, voters replaced Conservatives with Socialists and the economy improved. In the adjacent agricultural province of Alberta, voters replaced a socialist party with a right-leaning funny-money party created from scratch by a charismatic radio preacher, and the economy improved. In Weimar Germany, where economic distress was deeper and longer-lasting, voters rejected all of the mainstream parties, the Nazis seized power, and the economy improved. In every case, the party that happened to be in power when the Depression eased dominated politics for a decade or more thereafter. It seems farfetched to imagine that all these contradictory shifts represented well-considered ideological conversions. A more parsimonious interpretation is that voters simply—and simple-mindedly—rewarded whoever happened to be in power when things got better.
Bartels uses this evidence to make the case that voters aren't very knowledgeable. The same evidence could be used to argue that governments have very little ability to directly affect the economy.

Literal video

A-Ha's "Take On Me," with the words changed to reflect the visual.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Largest bar graph ever

I'm tempted to cancel class tomorrow so I can go see this.
At a press conference Wednesday, Headwaters Economics will release a report detailing how Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming choose to tax oil, natural gas, and coal extraction-and how the revenue is spent.

The report shows Colorado has the lowest effective tax rate in the Intermountain West. It also demonstrates that states can increase their effective tax rates with little risk of affecting the local energy economy.

A giant bar graph, perhaps the largest bar graph ever in Colorado, will dramatically illustrate the differences between the 5 states studied in the report.

You'll be able to sit down atop Colorado's three-foot bar on the graph, while Wyoming's bar will loom over you head at about 8 feet tall. That's because the effective oil and gas tax in Wyoming is over twice Colorado's (6.2% for Colorado and 15.9% for Wyoming).

When: Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 10:30 a.m.

Where: Civic Center Park (East side of the park, directly across from the State Capitol)

Stay and fight

I have to admit I'm enjoying some of the satire afoot this election. This one's great. This one had me until they started talking about moving to Canada if Palin becomes vice president. There are few things that make me hate liberals (disclosure: I am one) more than empty threats to move to Canada if Republicans win. Why? Because such threats validate three talking points that conservatives are always using against liberals:
  1. Liberals are intolerant. They talk a good game, but when it comes down to it, they just don't want to live in a country with people who disagree with them.
  2. Liberals don't love America. They'll stay if they like the government's policies, but they'll find another home if they disagree with the government. They don't think their country is worth fighting for.
  3. Liberals are liars. How many liberals moved to Canada after the 2000 election? After 2004? They won't really do it this year either.
For all of conservatives' faults, do you ever hear them threaten to move to... well, I'm not sure where they'd move to, but they don't threaten to leave if they get an election result they don't like. They impeach, they recall, they filibuster... they fight to control their country. Dirty at times, but they still fight. If liberals want their ideas to be taken seriously, they might start fighting for them instead of whining about running away.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Close elections

I was giving a lecture over the weekend about why this presidential election is so close. Given that the fundamentals of the race (fundraising, presidential popularity, voter registration, etc.) seem to overwhelmingly favor the Democrats this year, shouldn't Obama be winning by 20 points by now?

My main answer was that blowouts rarely happen in presidential elections. Here's a graph of presidential election margins since 1948:
To be sure, there were some big margins in there. LBJ beat Goldwater by more than 20 points, and Nixon beat McGovern by a similar margin. However, if you omit elections in which an incumbent president was running for reelection, there just aren't that many blowouts. Kennedy/Nixon, Humphrey/Nixon, and Gore/Bush were all nailbiters. The last time a non-incumbent won by more than 10 points was when Ike beat Stevenson in '52. So judging from this history, it would seem more than likely that McCain will get at least 45% of the vote. And, of course, my official forecast model only saw Obama winning by 4-6 points, and that's not accounting for any sort of race effect.

That said, this may not be a normal election. Obama's recent surge in the polls seems largely due to the financial crisis, but neither the crisis, nor the surge, seem to be abating. (See the graphs at the top right of this page, and your 401k.) The question, I think, is whether voters believe this is 1979 or 1929.

When traders lose their lunch

Dow drops below 10,000.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A telltale election sign

It's easy to get lost in a sea of conflicting polls. But if you're looking for one little indicator to tell you what the candidates themselves think of the way the race is shaping up, look no further than this: A month prior to the election, McCain has pulled out of Michigan, and Sarah Palin is campaigning in Nebraska.

Using technology

In case you missed it, the Obama campaign has created a free iPhone app that allows users to contact other supporters, find out about local campaign events, compare your volunteering activities with others, etc. I think it's a pretty impressive use of modern technology in a campaign.

Voter persuasion efforts, as near as I can tell, still primarily rely upon older technologies, mainly radio and television. But the voter turnout stuff in this election is getting pretty innovative.


Wow. Tina Fey is only getting better at this.

Bruce at Philly Voter Reg Drive

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Quick reaction

I largely subscribe to Josh Marshall's view on the Palin-Biden debate. Palin exceeded expectations, by which I mean she managed not to set her podium on fire or fart throughout the entire event. She came off reasonably articulate and capable. She didn't embarrass her campaign. I found the winking a bit annoying, but maybe that's just me.

That said, my impression was that Biden simply came off better. He was sharply critical of McCain and demonstrated a solid knowledge of both economic issues and foreign affairs. He defended Obama well. He made no serious gaffes (other than referring to Bosnians as Bosniacs). His statements were far more substantive than Palin's and yet still, for the most part, managed to have an emotional punch.

Anyway, I'm giving it to Biden. But Palin wasn't bad.

UPDATE: Biden was right, I was wrong. As Struwelpeter points out "Bosniak" is the accepted term for a Bosnian Muslim.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A question

Just how long did that Couric-Palin interview run? They keep leaking it in dribs and drabs. The thing's got to be as long as "Dr. Zhivago" by now.

Running against veeps

Today I was showing my students this ad, a pretty nasty attack Dukakis ran against Dan Quayle back in '88. The basic idea is that presidents die, Quayle's a bonehead, and Bush made a huge mistake in naming him his number two.

I asked my students if they though Obama could run a similar sort of ad against Palin today. Most seemed to feel there'd be a backlash. It would be seen as vicious, maybe sexist.

And then I was shocked to find that an interest group has just put out such an add. The California Nurses Association is running an ad showing McCain flatlining (these are nurses, mind you) while we're introduced to extremist stances by Palin.

Yeah, I'm calling this one over the top.

(h/t ColoradoPols)

Yeah, she's messing with us

Check out this interview Palin did with C-SPAN back in February:

While I wouldn't go so far as to call her responses eloquent, they were certainly competent. You get the impression that she knows what she's talking about. She doesn't stumble over words or phrases. She makes her point succinctly and reasonably clearly. See also here and here.

Now, it's possible that she has the same weird affliction that George W. Bush has, where he was a reasonably skilled public speaker as governor but mangles sentences on the national stage. But it's also possible that she's been running the most intricate and brilliant game of expectations-lowering that we've ever seen.

Either way, the debate is likely to be a disappointment for Democrats. The debate format is pretty rigid -- they'll be answering Gwen Ifill's questions directly, and chances are they have a pretty good idea what she'll be asking. There won't be much interaction between the candidates. And Palin is likely to be pretty well rehearsed.