Friday, August 14, 2009

Top Stories: 8/14/09

Politico explores why the Obama town hall meetings might be a lot more calm than those for Congressional Democrats.

Adlai Stevenson III uses the Huffington Post to endorse Dan Hynes in the 2010 Illinois gubernatorial race.

Renard Sexton at previews the upcoming August 20th election in Afghanistan.

And former President Bill Clinton defends his 1990s LGBT policies at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburg as a gay rights advocate screams at him.

Also - check out the new item under "What We're Looking At": The Redistricting Game. It's supposed to demonstrate the evils of gerrymandering, but really it's just fun to play.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Gallup Polls on the Healthcare Debate

Despite the fact that Americans don’t seem to be happy about much of anything these days, recent trends in the Gallup polls find that Americans are becoming increasingly confident in the outlook of the U.S. economy, and increasingly satisfied with the State of the Nation. In fact, these polls are reaching all-time highs for 2009.

43% of Americans now believe the economic outlook is good (with 50% believing it’s bad) - that’s a 25% improvement since the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, 32% of Americans say they are satisfied with the state of the nation (with 65% saying they are not) - a roughly 17% improvement since the start of 2009.

Yet the issue of healthcare has become remarkably tricky to follow in terms of public opinion. This has become even more significant since the rabid town hall protests started at the end of last month.

Gallup finds that most Americans (69%) are following the disruptions at town hall meetings closely, with Republicans being the most engaged in news of protests (at 79%).

And while a plurality of Americans (36%) say that the protests haven’t made any difference towards their opinion of the healthcare issue, an incredible 34% say that the protests have made them “more sympathetic” to the conservative view.

Those views also came down along predictably partisan lines.

So far these findings appear to suggest that the anti-reform protests are working. But there is some evidence that they might be backfiring - they are only emboldening Democrats to push for reform.

The study finds that Democrats - who ended up feeling less sympathetic of the conservative view as a result of the protests - are the only group who say that the protests have been a greater factor on their opinions than their pre-existing views on healthcare.

What effect are these developments having on the healthcare debate?

No two polls are the same, so it’s difficult to compare the recent Gallup findings with others, but - at least at first glance - it appears that Americans are becoming more thoughtful about whether they support a specific bill.

A USA Today poll last month found that only 12% of Americans had couldn’t say whether or not they would support a healthcare reform bill passing by the end of 2009.

In another recent Gallup poll, 29% of Americans said they weren’t sure if they would advise their members of Congress to support a bill when they return from August recess.

Again, these results fell upon predictably partisan lines - Democrats saying “yes” and Republicans saying “no” to supporting reform.

And while a plurality of Americans (49%) disapproves of President Obama’s handling of the healthcare issue - with 43% approving - there has been no net change in approval-disapproval since before the town hall protests started.

What’s far more remarkable is that that while Americans are becoming more and more optimistic about the economy (as seen in the graph above) they are, paradoxically, supporting the president’s handling of the economy less and less.

It’s doubtful that in the coming months and years of the current administration, Obama’s approval rating on healthcare will be static and his approval on the economy will continue to dissipate while the economy simultaneously improves (as the majority of economists believe it will).

But this does demonstrate just how tricky it is to track public opinion and - for a prospective candidate or up-for-re-election politician - develop a campaign message while the nation seems so utterly confused with what it thinks.

UPDATE: An interesting comment we received for this post asks "How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings endear them to anyone?"

We should point out that according to one of the Gallup polls Americans have differing opinions about different tactics coming from these conservative activists - except they generally think that "shouting down" those who disagree with them is an "abuse of democracy."

Top Stories: 8/13/09

Politico takes a look at what words President Obama uses most often. Afghanistan and Iraq are not among them.

On the Huffington Post, political psychologist Drew Westen provides analysis on how centrist-minded Obama supporters are feeling about their president now.

Nate Silver ponders whether or not the anti-reform healthcare protesters are succeeding, and whether liberal push-back is working. Not all the evidence looks good for Democrats.

And the round-up of last nights political jokes:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top Stories: 8/12/09

The Huffington Post reports on a rise of conservative militia groups across the United States. "The stress of a poor economy and a liberal administration led by a black president are among the causes for the recent rise" according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Politico blogger Ben Smith relays a story about Orly Taitz. Apparently "Obama was born in Kenya" is just the tip-of-the-iceberg among her many conspiracy theories!

Tom Schaller at blogs about the emerging Democratic dominance of State Legislatures.

And the latest Wall Street Journal economic survey finds that the majority of economists believe that the recession is over. They also believe that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke should be appointed to a second term by President Obama for his handling of the economic crisis.

And here is the roundup of last nights political jokes on late night comedy shows:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How is New Media Changing Politics?

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

Those who are highly engaged in the political realm hear a lot about the prospects of “New Media” everyday. But what role does New Media really have in politics? More importantly, how can New Media be used effectively by campaigns and politicians?

When people think of New Media, they often associate it with social networking - Facebook, Twitter, etc. - but in fact it encompasses much more than that. Resources such as YouTube, social bookmarking sites (Digg, Reddit, etc.) and the blogosphere are some of the other important tools in the New Media hype. And all of these tools are becoming more and more important in politics.

For example, as newspapers fall by the wayside, campaigns are increasing their outreach to bloggers. As we noted in Part 6 of this series, campaigns can engage these citizen journalists by sending them interesting YouTube videos, news clips, and other online materials regarding the race. It helps build a relationship with friendly bloggers and that can help get your name and message out there the way you want it to.

Yet, much of the New Media world requires navigation on the part of the user. In other words, if a voter is not interested in the campaign, they’re not going to subscribe to an email list, become a fan on Facebook, or a follower on Twitter.

So why are these tools still important?

There is one important group of voters that are still going to follow the campaign with these tools - supporters. Keeping supporters engaged is a highly important function of any campaign. Without engaged supporters, a campaign is unable to raise money or find volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls.

That means campaigns have to keep supporters interested and active in the daily developments of the race.

Let’s use Twitter as an example. As we mentioned in our own Twitter study last month, the effectiveness of such outreach comes down to what we call the “Twitter talent.” A major part of it is passing the “‘Who Cares?’ Test” - you have to post something relevant that your followers will be interested in.

So we decided to do an analysis of the New Media strategies of the two main campaigns of the Virginia Gubernatorial race going on right now between Democrat Criegh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell.

Deeds has some Tweets and Facebook updates that supporters can use. He mostly uses the social networking tools to update supporters on where he’ll be speaking each day. Occasionally, he also throws in less useful updates.

Take these three Tweets (in chronological order) on August 1st:

“Today is Jerry Garcia's birthday. We turn to Workingman's Dead”

“At FedEx in hot anticipation of Sir Paul. Surrounded by good friends”

“Still waiting. @jbtaylor I like it all but I'm partial to the Revolver-Rubber Soul period for the Fab Four”

And in the past two weeks, he has only posted one link outside of Twitter. On Facebook, his posts have been more relevant - he regularly posts videos, events, and news bits that will encourage supporters. Yet his outreach to them on Facebook is still a little weak - he has less than 10,000 supporters while McDonnell has over 16,000. He also has just more than half as many followers on Twitter as McDonnell.

In fact, McDonnell uses Facebook just as well - constantly linking to his website on updates, informing supporters about upcoming events, and posting even more videos and positive news stories as Deeds. On Twitter, McDonnell constantly links to videos, pictures, news stories, and other websites that will be of use to supporters - engaging them so they will be encouraged to help his campaign.

Obviously, it would be irresponsible to credit McDonnell’s lead on Deeds solely with his dominant social networking strategy, but it certainly helps.

Another favorite New Media tool has been YouTube. Although we were quick to criticize this video for its inaccuracies, it certainly served its purpose well - it engaged and encouraged like-minded Recovery Act opponents.

Of course, using New Media as effectively as it can be used takes a lot of work. Campaigns that actually have a New Media coordinator - whose sole responsibility is social networking, engaging bloggers, posting on sites such as YouTube and Flickr, social bookmarking, etc. - can have a tremendous advantage in fundraising, volunteer support, and even message delivery.

Yet there is still a danger to such a strategy.

Back in June we mentioned how a few GOP operatives and activists were stepping over the line with some of their Tweets. For example, Mike Green of the GOP firm Starboard Communications tweeted “JUST HEARD THAT OBAMA IS GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT’S WHITE AND IT WORKS.”

He later apologized - using two tweets to do so.

And nobody has been scrutinized for their use of New Media by the traditional media sources than Sarah Palin. Just last week she talked about an Obama “death panel” euthanizing her baby with Down Syndrome on a Facebook status update.

The point is that politicians wouldn’t (in most cases) say those sorts of things to rally supporters in a speech - because that too would be picked up by the mainstream media - so they shouldn’t try to engage supporters with such rhetoric in the social networking realm either.

And that’s another reason to have a special New Media coordinator rather than a candidate updating their New Media tools themselves - message discipline.

Like so many other advancements in campaign politics, just because the technology is changing doesn’t mean the basic principles are.

Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed “21st Century Campaigning” - it was certainly a pleasure to give our predictions and analysis of the changes happening in the political campaign world. Soon we’ll be starting a new series that should be fun: “Politics in the Movies

Top Stories: 8/11/09

Something new we're doing at WAYLA is a morning post that brings you the top headlines from around the best political blogs so you aren't lost and confused trying to find the best news everyday.

The Huffington Post reports on the Town Hall meeting Obama will hold himself, and preparing for possible disruptions.

At, Nate Silver makes a late-night post (after 2am - which explains why it was more goofy than usual) explaining the difference between single-payer health care and socialized medicine.

Politico's Scorecard blog reports on Gov. Corzine's (D-NJ) improving, but still poor, poll numbers, as well as a new ad released by the RGA.

And if you missed it last night, you have to see the Jon Stewarts take on the new turns in the healthcare debate:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Monday, August 10, 2009

How Can the Democrats Still Win On Healthcare?

Since we first posted on the disruptive town hall meetings back on Tuesday, the healthcare debate has only become more surreal - with arguments becoming more absurd and dialogue actually exploding into fist fights.

For the past few years, healthcare has really been a major selling-point for Democrats - it helped them retake Congress in 2006 and expand their majority - and win the White House - in 2008.

But now we’re looking forward to 2010 and suddenly healthcare seems to be a weak selling point. Polls show that Americans still want healthcare reform - including a public option - but they don’t believe Democrats can pull it off.

The big reason has been the deficit.

Recent polls find that the ideas of the Democratic healthcare bills are still popular - for example, voters support a public option. Yet they also believe that the current legislation making its way through Congress will increase the size of the deficit - and they aren’t willing to support it if it does that.

Then there is the issue of quality.

In recent weeks, we’ve heard more and more absurd claims about what would happen to the quality of healthcare under a Democratic-led reform package. Former GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin posted this on Facebook last week:

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Liberals love to point to such claims and laugh about how preposterous they are. In their defense, of course, these arguments are preposterous - the non-partisan watchdog recently called such euthanasia claims flat-out “false.”

But they’re doing the job. A recent New York Times poll finds that 69% of Americans are worried that the current healthcare reform bills would result in a loss of quality for them personally if passed.

And as the New York Times pollsters put it “over all, the poll portrays a nation torn by conflicting impulses and confusion.”

"In one finding, 75 percent of respondents said they were concerned that the cost of their own health care would eventually go up if the government did not create a system of providing health care for all Americans. But in another finding, 77 percent said they were concerned that the cost of health care would go up if the government did create such a system."

And when we look at the Republican arguments closer (increased deficits, loss of quality) and the impact they’re having (fear and confusion) we see a familiar trend: these are exactly the same circumstances that brought healthcare reform to fail in 1994.

By the way, it was the 1994 elections that gave rise to 12 years of GOP power in Congress. If the Democrats fail on healthcare reform again, they seriously risk losing a high number of seats in Congress.

So how can the Democrats still win on this issue?

So far, the Democrats have done a poor job addressing the points that Republicans are raising.

First they must address the issue of deficits. President Obama has repeatedly said that the bill he signs must be budget-neutral - in other words, it cannot increase the size of the federal deficit.

In fact, many Democrats occasionally point out that healthcare costs are a huge part of the deficit as it stands - and they’re right. To bring a little Econ 101 into the discussion, a public option would create a positive shift in the supply curve for health insurance - subsequently lowering prices.

And lower prices mean lower costs for the government. Currently the government faces the major challenge of paying for Medicare and Medicaid while healthcare costs are so high. Because these are nondiscretionary entitlement programs, the government must pay for them - and the most they can do to reduce the deficit here is to pay lower costs.

While that may not be enough to balance the budget, it will be a significant start. Democrats must convey one rather important point: without such cost-cutting reform, it will be impossible to balance the federal budget.

They also need to better address the fear of a loss of quality. The Democrats should stress that their plan would foster competition, thereby increasing the prevalence of preventative care - and that would, in turn, increase quality of healthcare.

Many have been making another important point that should be stressed on this note: while Americans are paying more for healthcare than any other country, we aren’t exactly healthier. Several developed countries with government options as well as countries with strictly nationalized health plans have significantly longer life expectancy rates than the U.S.

Of course, there will always be claims about forced euthanasia and the heartless bureaucrats of “Obama’s ‘death panel’” - but by turning attention to such outrageous arguments, Democrats can actually help Republicans continue to marginalize themselves.

Just look at some of the claims Republicans have made in the past week that liberal activists can point to…

From Minnesota Family Research Council president Tom Prichard:

“Some may ask what does God have to do with our health care system. For one, He’s created the government as an institution in society to do certain things. When we reject His design for government, in a sense, we’re rejecting Him.

In Obama’s worldview, our trust is in government not in God. A denial of how God designed and created our economic and social systems to actually work in the real world. The result? The abysmal failure of government control of health care in socialist models.”

Another right-wing activist group, Americans for Truth, recently sent out an email alert asking “Will ObamaCare Turn into Taxpayer-funded ‘Tranny-Care’?” - suggesting that the public option will be used (maybe or maybe not primarily) for sexual reassignment surgery.

Or we can look to more image-based attacks from the right. Rush Limbaugh recently stirred up controversy when he compared the Obama healthcare logo - featuring a caduceus - to Nazi images.

Some are already picking up on the importance of pointing out such radical attacks. In today’s edition of USA Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote a criticism of the methods used by reform opponents:

“…it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland and protesters holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another congressman in Texas, where protesters also shouted "Just say no!" drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion.”

And liberal bloggers can be some of the best sources of counter-attack - citing on-the-ground accounts of conservative bullying. Wisconsin’s Blogging Blue posted this threat sent to the SEIU after some its union members got in a scuffle with conservative activists last week:

"You socialist f—s have the nerve to say stop the violence at the town hall meetings when they weren’t violent until you p—ies showed up because your n—– leader obama said to?????? When we have ours in Racine, Wi, I want you there. I want one of your little b—– to put his hands on this Marine. I want one of you to look or talk to me wrong. I’ll be the last thing your ignorant faux body guards will remember for a very long time. You can f—ing guarantee that."

As the blogger jokingly writes: “nothing says ‘honest debate’ like foul language, threats of violence, and racial epithets.”

Still others are exposing conservative “grassroots” activists as astroturfers and GOP operatives. posted this local news report from Wisconsin over the weekend:

As we said on Tuesday, only time will tell if conservative activists can build momentum towards defeating healthcare with their antics - but some suggest that it could backfire.

If Democrats begin to address the claims that are scarring and confusing Americans while keeping up the pressure on activists - exposing them as either fringe radicals or astroturfers - chances are it very well could.

UPDATE: The White House is catching on. A new page at directly addresses conservative criticisms of the reform plans with YouTube videos of the president's policy staff debunking the myths in the debate. Below is one of the several examples posted there: