Friday, July 31, 2009

Today's Post Moved...

Sorry to those of you who were expecting Part 8 of 21st Century Campaigning.

Due to a schedule change, we'll bring you that post on Monday.

There will be no other post today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Healthcare, Beer, and Birthers

It’s Thursday, July 30, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

If yesterday’s Blue Dog compromise on the House healthcare bill has done anything, it’s probably further confused members of Congress. Many say that neither they, nor most anyone else, can really understand the full scope of the reform package. Now, as the August recess looms for them, Democrats and Republicans are wondering how to frame their message on the bill to their constituents for a month back home.

Though it’s not too surprising, this year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates - incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Virginia candidate Creigh Deeds - are taking very different approaches to how they use President Obama’s support. Corzine is invoking Obama in a central role to his campaign - headlining rallies and fundraisers - while Deeds is using Obama to encourage liberal supporters, but not to engage his more conservative general electorate.

In light of the recent Crowley-Gates controversy and the Sotomayor hearings, Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Lacewell have an excellent discussion on the state of race relations.

Speaking of the Crowley-Gates controversy, it’s going to be “Red, Light, and Blue” today at the White House “Beer Summit” as President Obama hopes to help resolve their differences. Professor Gates will be drinking Red Stripe lager, Officer Crowley will be sipping on a Blue Moon, and President Obama will have a Bud Light.

As you might imagine, the high-profile event has sparked frenzy over what beer is provided. Yuengling tells Politico that they should be the beer of the event because "Yuengling is proud to be recognized as America's Oldest Brewery. Family owned and operated since 1829, we've been a part of conflict resolution for over 180 years!"

Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada argues “We believe that we are the perfect fit for the matter at hand, and a great choice to represent and facilitate the resilience and understanding of the American people. Sierra Nevada [can] reinforce the idea that whether black or white, rich or poor, we are all first and foremost Americans. American citizens should support American beer. Think global, drink local.”

Miller Coors LLC decided not to press for their products, simply saying “It's widely known that for ages people have sat down together over a beer to resolve differences and disputes. We're happy to know that beer continues to be a beverage that brings people together for fellowship and one of our beers may be considered. Regardless of the pick, it's good news for our industry that beer will be shared for this lighthearted moment.”

Next up is the gift that just wont stop giving to Democrats - the birther issue. While it’s largely seen as a fringe movement, a few citizen journalists have discovered just how reluctant GOP members of Congress are to refute them.

Finally, what’s the newest political sensation on the internet? It might be this bizarre new video series by The Gregory Brothers - a band that uses Auto-Tune (a piece of technology that keeps singers in key) to review the news. You have to see this…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How Bad Will 2010 Be for Democrats?

Over the past few months, we’ve noted some signs of trouble for Democrats across the country - in New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, and more. Lately there has been a good deal of discussion in the news about the possibility of a 2010 GOP comeback.

It wouldn’t be an unfamiliar phenomenon - midterm elections are often bad for the party in power. In fact, the party in control of the White House has seen a net loss of Congressional seats in (at least) 14 of the last 17 midterm elections.

Politico this morning refers to the landscape as “perilous” for Democrats, suggesting a landslide backlash to the newly empowered party.

…the possibilities GOP officials now imagine are a dramatic shift from the bleak prospects that the 2010 midterm elections presented for the party at the beginning of the year…

…There’s a sense building among Republicans that 2010 is going to be a far better political environment than 2008 or 2006,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayers. “Part of that is because we have a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Senate and House that are promoting fiscally dangerous policies for the future of the country. Part of it is we don’t have the burden of Iraq as we did in 2006 and don’t have the economy on the Republicans’ watch as we had in 2008.”

Much of the economic arguments put forward by the GOP do appear to be sticking. Polls show that Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the national debt and the effectiveness of the stimulus package passed earlier this year. Republicans, to the credit of their political savvy, have continued to press on this issue.

In fact, it’s becoming such an effective message for them that the Democratic National Committee is now responding with country-wide ads attacking GOP leaders.

Will it really be that bad for the Democrats next year?

If this year’s state elections in New Jersey and Virginia can offer any insight, the answer would certainly appear to be “yes” - and it’s only becoming more and more evident. Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) is trailing Republican challenger Chris Christie by a 50% - 36% margin according to a Public Policy Polling survey released yesterday.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, state Sen. Criegh Deeds (D-Bath) continues to fall short of the former Republican Attorney General, Bob McDonnell, by something along the lines of three to six percentage points. This comes despite a Deeds lead a little more than a month ago.

And gubernatorial polls across the country seem to favor the GOP for 2010. Democratic governors Bill Ritter of Colorado and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin both have approval ratings in the low 40s and are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Once-popular Democratic governors Ted Strickland of Ohio and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania aren’t doing so hot either. Strickland is neck-and-neck with his GOP opponent for next year and Rendell’s approval rating is in the 30s.

Even in the “super-liberal” states like New York and Massachusetts, the Democratic governors are underperforming in the polls. Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) is facing a 52% disapproval rating, while Gov. David Patterson (D-NY) is likely to face an uphill battle in a primary, if not a general election as well. (Rumor has it that Rudy Giuliani is thinking about a Patterson challenge - he was reportedly overheard talking about it to Rep. Pete King (R-NY).)

It makes sense too: all of these governors are facing budget crises that came with an unexpectedly strong recession. To make up for the shortfalls they’ve had to cut services and raise fees or taxes - it’s sort of been an impossible predicament for them. State Legislatures may also see some shifts towards more GOP control.

But what about federal races?

The 2010 congressional races might actually be an entirely different story. There's been a strong push to regain seats for Republicans against Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Travis Childers (D-MS), Walt Minnick (D-ID), and Harry Teague (D-NM).

They've also been targeting Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Arlen Specter (D-PA) and the open seats in Deleware and Illinois as well.

But despite their efforts, the Democrats might get the best of the GOP.

As Nate Silver wrote on Monday:

The Democrats currently have a 78-seat margin in the House of Representatives. That means they could lose a net of 38 seats (half of 78, less one) and still control a majority of the chamber.

CQ Politics, which does terrific work, has identified 59 competitive races involving Democratic Representatives. Conversely, there are 41 competitive races involving Republican Representatives.

At first, this math looks pretty decent for the Democrats. If each side won one-half of the other's competitive seats, the Democrats would lose a net of 9 seats, and their majority would be reduced from 78 seats to 60…

…Of course, in both 1994 and 2006, the opposition party was tremendously well organized. We've seen nothing as smart as the Contract with America that the Republicans put together before 1994, and nothing as impressive as the 50-state strategy that the Democrats had working for them in 2006. On the contrary, the Republicans have something of a power vacuum and weren't done any favors by the McCain campaign, which put little emphasis on ground game and did not help to develop the party's voter lists. Also, the Democrats have pretty significantly outfundraised Republicans in House races so far, which is a pretty good leading indicator.

In fact, Congressional Quarterly indicates that the Democrats might pick up 3 seats in the House against Reps. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) - who beat the palpably corrupt William Jefferson of New Orleans in a run-off last year - and in two open seats. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is vacating his mildly-Democratic seat to run for Senate while Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) is leaving his to run for governor.

The toss-ups CQ identifies are Minnick, freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), and the newly open seat of Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) who was chosen by Obama to be Secretary of the Army.

Meanwhile, there are four GOP-held Senate seats that will be open next year: in Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio - all of which are likely to be competitive. Even if the Republicans manage to pick up a couple of seats (such as those in Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut or Colorado) they’re still likely to be matched - or close-to-matched - with Democratic pick-ups.

So why won’t Democrats do as bad at the federal level?

Despite their gains in convincing the public they’re better at handling wasteful spending and taxes, the majority of Americans still don’t trust the GOP. According to a GWU poll released today, “likely voters in the 2010 congressional elections lean towards the Democrats by 43 percent to 40 percent with 17 percent undecided.”

Among their findings:

Reflecting findings of other polls, 48 percent viewed congressional Republicans unfavorably while 37 percent saw them in a positive light. Democrats were seen favorably by a bare 46 percent to 44 percent ratio…

…Rating congressional Republicans and Democrats on a range of issues, voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans on overhauling health care (51 percent to 30 percent), on promoting energy independence (49 percent to 33 percent), defending middle class values (48 percent to 35 percent), "sharing your values" (42 percent to 40 percent) and honesty (38 percent to 27 percent). Republicans topped Democrats on controlling wasteful spending (41 percent to 33 percent), holding down taxes (53 percent to 29 percent) and promoting a strong national defense (53 percent to 33 percent)…

…The poll said that 53 percent believe congressional Republicans are blocking change and still supporting former President Bush's policies while 41 percent disagreed.

One of the most important findings was that “Fifty-seven percent said Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress should get a year to see if the programs they have put in place really make a difference while 33 percent believe enough time has passed to render judgment.”

In a very similar finding a few months ago, 50% of respondents to one survey said they would give the Obama Administration 18 months for the economy to turn around before judging the effectiveness of his economic policies. Furthermore, the vast majority of economists (about 95%) predict the recession to be over by then.

And that’s just a few months before the 2010 midterm elections.

So don’t be surprised if Democrats lose some gubernatorial offices this year and next, but don’t expect any big Congressional surge for the GOP - at least not yet.

Also, for a great interactive map of Congressional seats up next year, click here.

UPDATE: A new SurveyUSA poll finds Deeds trailing McDonnell by a much more significant margin: 55% - 40%.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Does Polling Affect Political Campaigns?

Part 7 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

You’ll often hear politicians claim that they don’t pay attention to the polls - especially politicians who are behind in them. But that notion is typically just political rhetoric. Even if the candidate is ignoring the polls, his or her campaign staff and consultants do not.

Campaigning is both an art and a science: there are aspects that require inherent political savvy, talent, and creativity, and then there are aspects that need to be measured empirically - a necessity for winning a race. Polling is in the latter category. Watching and even taking polls helps a campaign track where they are and where they need to go.

But aren’t polls often inaccurate?

No poll is perfect, but political scientists and junkies as well as campaigners do a lot to figure out which polls are best to look at.

Nate Silver - the author of the popular blog - is one such political junkie. During the 2008 presidential campaign he was able to determine Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s chances of winning by using a very in-depth system of poll analysis.

As he found in April last year, not only do all polls suffer the normal sampling error (usually below 4%) but also from what he calls a “Pollster-Introduced Error” (or “PIE”) - an error of poor methodology. For example, how a question is asked can lead a respondent to say something different than they would if the question was put to them another way. In fact, there is an entire science behind that concept.

Another problem that arises is who is asking the question. For example, a poll by Fox News is likely to demonstrate a conservative politician or stance being more popular than, say, a New York Times survey would. This is because a pollster that identifies himself as being with Fox News is more likely to have a liberal voter hang-up on him, whereas a New York Times pollster would be more likely to have a conservative voter hang-up on him.

Similarly, a campaign’s internal surveys are likely to be more skewed towards their particular candidate than an independent poll would. Even when the campaign outsources the job to a polling firm - which they almost always do - the poll is likely to suffer from a larger PIE than an external survey.

Still, internal polls are important because they can be used to gather data that an independent survey might not. Smaller races (in fact, most anything smaller than a targeted Senate race) are particularly dependent on these additional data because independent pollsters do not pay as much attention to their races.

Aren’t those internal surveys just “push-polls” though?

A campaign will track polls carefully to see how they’re doing - an important way to empirically determine whether their strategy is working or not. But in order to figure out what strategy needs to be employed in the first place - specifically the candidate’s message - a survey will be taken early-on in the campaign to test the waters of the electorate.

These “message-testing” surveys are very different from “push-polls” because they are meant to legitimately plan a campaign message, platform, and image of the candidate. Push-polls are intended to directly influence the opinion of the respondent under the disguise as a message-testing survey.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research explains how a respondent can tell the difference:

Identifying Advocacy Calls Made Under the Guise of Research

Political telemarketing calls, when disguised as research, may sometimes be difficult to differentiate from a legitimate survey. Here are characteristics that will usually indicate to a respondent that the call is not a legitimate survey.

-One or only a few questions are asked, all about a single candidate or a single issue.

-The questions are uniformly strongly negative (or sometimes uniformly positive) descriptions of the candidate or issue.

-The organization conducting the calls is not named, or a phony name is used.

-Evasive answers are given in response to requests for more information about the survey.

In addition, the following characteristics will indicate to journalists, reporters, and survey professionals that a telephone call is not a legitimate survey.

-The number of people called is very large, sometimes many thousands.

-The calls are not based on a random sample.

-It is difficult to find out which organization conducted the interviews.

[Identifying]…Message Testing

… One way to tell is that message-testing surveys exhibit the characteristics of a legitimate survey, such as:

-At the beginning of the call, the interviewer clearly identifies the call center actually making the calls. (However, legitimate political polling firms will often choose not to identify the client who is sponsoring the research, be it a candidate or a political party, since that could bias the survey results.)

-The interview contains more than a few questions.

-The questions usually ask about more than one candidate or mention both sides of an issue.

-Questions, usually near the end of the interview, ask respondents to report demographic characteristics such as age, education level, and party identification.

-The survey is based on a random sample of voters.

-The number of respondents falls within the range of legitimate surveys, typically between 400 and 1500 interviews.

In 1996, citing the increasing practice of push-polling, the American Association of Political Consultants publicly condemned the tactic and required its members to abstain from it under the AAPC’s Code of Ethics.

But the concept of push-polling really became famous in 2000 during the GOP presidential primaries. Karl Rove encouraged the Bush campaign to wage a push-poll against Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in South Carolina. The pollsters asked respondents if they were aware that - among other negative and untrue things - McCain was the father of an illegitimate black child. The incident was so appalling and became so famous that little of the practice has been seen since.

So how is the 21st Century changing the effect of polling on campaigns?

While modern opinion polls have been around since George Gallup tracked the 1936 re-election of FDR, in the last few years they have become increasingly significant with the rise of bloggers.

One such blog is, which in 2000 began compiling polls of the close presidential contest between Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX) and Vice President Al Gore (D-TN). As time passed they would update the outlook of the election with the RCP Poll Average. It was a helpful way for the average political junkie to look at where the candidates were at without worrying too much about the number differences between multiple surveys.

Next in that tradition was Founded in 2008 by Silver - a former baseball statistician - it was able to track where the candidates were at even better. 538 was able to analyze the polls by weighing them, tracking them by state, and using complicated math that the typical American (and even most folks in campaign politics) wouldn’t understand. With the internet providing the opportunity for this blog, millions of Americans were able to see Silver’s rolling predictions.

So on Election Day, when - according to Silver - McCain had roughly a 1% chance of winning, it was really no surprise that Obama could declare victory that night. In fact, it was such a long-shot for McCain to win that the 538-reading Obama supporter had nothing to worry about.

And that’s exactly the point.

Campaigns have had to tell their supporters for years not to pay attention to the polls. If their supporters are taking polls seriously, it means that they’ll either figure their candidate has it in the bag (if he/she is ahead) or that their candidate doesn’t have a chance.

Similarly, in 2004, many criticized the national news media for releasing exit polls mid-way through Election Day. Sen. John Kerry was ahead in the presidential election according to the exit polls, and that may have encouraged Bush supporters to get to their polling-places before they closed and for Kerry supporters to not bother.

Luckily for Obama in 2008, most of his supporters were pretty skeptical of the polls as well as 538’s findings. Not only did they make sure to vote, but they continued the campaign’s GOTV activities like the election could come down to one vote.

But with 538’s analysis being so sophisticated and so incredibly accurate, such blogs pose a real problem for campaign workers. With the information so readily accessible in the internet age, it can go a long way towards influencing supporters. If your candidate’s scientifically-measured chances of winning are so high (or conversely, so low) then why bother volunteering or giving money?

That will be the challenge for campaigns in the future.

“21st Century Campaigning” returns Friday with Voter ID!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Blagojevich Ripple Effect

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Illinois.

To appreciate the full magnitude of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s scandal and impeachment, one must see just how big of a stir he’s created in his state’s political scene.

With his attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat and his subsequent removal from office, he is leaving at least 15 seats potentially open for intense battles across the state - including the Governor’s office, the U.S. Senate seat and a plethora of State Senate, State House, and local seats as well.

To get an idea of what’s happening, let’s first look at his seat.

On the Democratic side alone, he’s left his former Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn vulnerable to a probable primary challenger, State Comptroller Dan Hynes. Right there we see both the Lt. Governor’s office open up, as well as the State Comptroller’s. Looking to move up the political ladder, Democratic State Representatives Arthur Turner, Mike Boland, and David Miller have all suggested they might run for higher office in 2010.

The full chart of the contenders coming as a result of the gubernatorial race is far too large to complete.

On the GOP side, two State Senators and two local government leaders have at least hinted at seeking these two statewide offices.

Then there’s the U.S. Senate seat, where the Blagojevich-appointed incumbent, Roland Burris, will not seek an election. The seat has already attracted State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to leave his post, and he may be joined by other Democrats soon, such as Chris Kennedy (son of RFK) and Urban League President Cheryle Jackson.

With the Treasurer spot open, Democrats Kip Kirkpatrick and Robin Kelly (the second-in-command) appear to be seeking the post. Meanwhile, GOP State Sen. Dan Rutherford will leave his seat open to do the same.

On the Republican side of the Senatorial race, the much-talked about U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be vacating his seat for a GOP primary against three others, including Eric Wallace and former Judge Don Lowery. Vying to replace Kirk: on the Democratic side will be former candidate Dan Seals, State Sen. Michael Bonds, and State Rep. Julie Hamos. Two businessmen will fight for the GOP nomination.

The only sign of stability after 2010 is the Attorney General spot. Incumbent AG Lisa Madigan (D-IL) was encouraged by many supporters to seek either the Governor’s mansion or the Senate seat. In the end she decided to seek re-election where she is.