Friday, September 25, 2009

The Top 3 Signs That We’ve Returned to Political Equilibrium

Summary: the political landscape has changed a lot over the past year - what we can learn from it.

In the weeks and months leading up to and after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, it seemed like public opinion had dramatically shifted. Presidential job approval was the highest it had been in years, GOP favorability ratings were at - literally - an all time low, and for a while there, almost as many Americans were saying the country was on the “right track” as those who were saying it was on the “wrong track.”

As many noted, it was a “honeymoon period” for the new president.

Now with October around the corner, the tide seems to have turned. Presidential job approval is down about 20 points, the GOP has greatly improved their image, and Americans are beginning to say the country is on the wrong track again.

Call it the American Political Equilibrium.

Presidential Job Approval

Following his inauguration, President Obama had a near 70% job approval rating. Today, Gallup tracks it around 50%.

But don’t assume that it will keep dropping too fast. As Gallup noted in a recent study, Obama’s approval has stayed remarkably stable over the past month.

And’s presidential approval poll average appears to confirm this new trend.

In fact, this trend seems to be pretty normal for a president’s first year in office for the month of September these days. In the graph below, the only two presidents outside of the trend are the Bush presidents. It’s important to remember, however, that George H.W. Bush was the only president who did not have a recession on his hands at the time, and George W. Bush was assisted here by polls that found his approval rating to be as high as 90% following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Now anything could happen between now and 2012, but usually the presidential approval rating for an incumbent improves going into an election year.

The Improving GOP Image

Gallup also recently found that public opinion towards the Republican Party has increased considerably since the beginning of the year when it was at an all time low.

Again, don’t assume this trend will continue. Favorability of Republicans will not reach that of Democrats for some time still.

The first reason is pretty simple: this is about the normal equilibrium favorability for the GOP in recent years. In fact, Republican favorability is only back to where it was around the time of last year’s general elections.

The other reason is because of why they’ve surged in popularity recently: it’s because Republicans themselves aren’t as dismayed by their own party as they were in the beginning of the year. Democrats and - more importantly - independents haven’t really jumped on board with them yet.

Democrats actually still lead Republicans among party base as well as independents.

Direction of the Country

For a few months, it actually seemed as though Americans were beginning to think the country was on the right path - so much so that it seemed as though we were returning to some blissful equilibrium.


The truth is, public opinion on the direction of the country is always pessimistic, or at least has been for the past several years.

But now, the polls seem to suggest that Americans are beginning to become less and less hopeful for their nation’s prospects again. Sure it’s sad, but it’s also normalcy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stories: 9/24/09

Sadly, this will be the only post we have time for today.

Gov. Devall Patrick (D-MA) has picked a temporary successor for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Politico reports that a new poll finds State Senator Criegh Deeds (D-Bath) within 4 points of the GOP's Bob McDonnell in Virginia's race for the Governor's mansion.

Political writer Bob Cesca tells the Huffington Post that if Republicans took over Congress, they would try to impeach President Obama.

A recent Gallup poll finds that the GOP's image is improving.

Tom Schaller at ponders the expansion of Congress, and what that would mean for the two major political parties.

And here's last night's political jokes:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Republicans Dominating on Twitter?

Summary: What the GOP lacks in Twitter message discipline, they make up for in followers.

The traditional stereotype of the GOP in Congress is a group of old conservative white men who probably aren’t too savvy with the modern world.

Except the Congressional Research Service recently released a study which finds Republicans in Congress are almost twice as likely to use Twitter, and they tweet almost four times as often.

From the Politico article:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had the most subscribers to his tweets, but two Democrats — Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — did make it into the top five list maintained by the website TweetCongress, which describes itself as “a grass-roots effort to get our men and women in Congress to open up and have a real conversation with us.” It lists Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the top five, as well, and puts the current total of congressional Twitterers to 190. The CRS report, meanwhile, found that 4,186 people subscribed to — or followed — the median Republican senator, versus 2,874 for the median Democratic senator. The median Republican congressman had 1,615 followers, compared with 969 for Democratic colleagues.

Still,’s Micah Sifry tells Politico “few members of Congress are really using Twitter very effectively. Most aren’t engaging a community all that well and, instead, use the tool primarily to broadcast a PR-style message that isn’t likely to get spread around much by others.”

Sound familiar?

Still, GOP consultants love Twitter anyway:

David All, a Republican Internet strategist hired recently to help bolster [Rep. Joe] Wilson’s presence online — including on Twitter — said the site “is not the end-all, be-all, but it has proven to be a good tool to help public officials, trade associations, major brands and media achieve their online goals.”

He asserted that “every effective communications professional or major association needs a real strategy for utilizing Twitter at all times — especially during key events where real-time response is crucial.”

But that still isn’t stopping Republicans from posting stupid tweets, which is something we’ve covered a lot here before. The article relays some new ones:

A handful of House members were called out for tweeting during President Barack Obama’s February address to a joint session of Congress, including Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), whose account tweeted, “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” That was followed quickly by another message reading: “Disregard that last tweet from a staffer.”

In July, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a member of the Navy Reserve, was criticized for disclosing his location while on duty, which risked running afoul of military rules.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) raised eyebrows when he used his very active Twitter account to compare the Iranian protests over their disputed election to House Republicans’ efforts to “expose repression” such as a House Democratic “clampdown” on Republican amendments.

It’s been interesting to watch the growth of Twitter in the past year in the political world, especially among Republicans, because it brings a lot of implications with it. Unfortunately for the naïve GOP consultant quoted earlier, few of those implications are positive unless you have the sort of message discipline that Republicans clearly don’t have right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What was Behind the Scenes of the Town Hall Protests?

Summary: Who is behind the disruptive Town Hall Protests and what should Health Care Reform proponents watch out for?

I happened to pick up a copy of the latest edition of Rolling Stone this morning, and read a very in-depth political article by Tim Dickinson.

The article, entitled “The Lie Machine” expands on the inside story of August’s town hall protests that we started following over a month and a half ago.

Now, bear in mind that Rolling Stone is notoriously liberal, and the language they use may be more forceful than most media outlets would make it. However, I thought it would be good to relay you some parts of the article today.

From the section “Writing the Script”:

The campaign to mobilize the town-hall mobs began with a script written by the right’s foremost fear-monger, Frank Luntz. Luntz rose to fame in 1994 as pollster for Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and crafted the Republican playbook on global warming. In a May memo, Luntz outlined a battle plan for conservatives to block what he branded the “Washington takeover” of health care - the most terrifying buzz words conjured up in his polls and focus groups.

The logic of the language is simple, Luntz writes: “Takeovers are like coups - they both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.” For a third of Americans, he adds, the top worry about health care reform is “being denied a procedure or medication because a Washington bureaucrat says no.” Luntz concludes by telling Republicans how best to play the fear card. “It is essential that ‘deny’ and ‘denial’ enter the conservative lexicon immediately,” he writes, “because it is at the core of what scares Americans most about a government takeover of health care.”

Distributed widely to Republicans on Capitol Hill, the memo framed the right-wing attack on health care reform. What Luntz describes as “the best anti-Democrat message” is now familiar to everyone in America: “No Washington bureaucrat should stand between your family and your doctor…The Democrats want to put Washington politicians in charge of YOUR health care.”

Here is part of the next section, “Assembling the Team”:

Americans for Prosperity, which has taken the lead in the current fight against reform, is a front group for oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, co-owners of the world’s largest private oil and gas conglomerate. The Kochs, who provide much of AFP’s budget, have a strange affinity for mock uprisings: Matt Schlapp, one of the original “Brooks Brothers rioters” - the GOP activists who disrupted the Bush-Gore recount in Miami-Dade County - now serves as director of federal affairs for Koch Industries, orchestrating the firm’s political efforts in Washington.

To head Americans for Prosperity, the brothers tapped Tim Phillips, one of the Republican Party’s most notorious dirty tricksters. Phillips served as a strategic consultant to George W. Bush in 2000 and reputedly took part in the smear campaign in South Carolina that portrayed John McCain’s adopted daughter as his mulatto love child. That same year, Phillips was linked to a nearly identical smear campaign in Virginia that portrayed the primary opponent of Rep. Eric Cantor - a Jew - as the “only Christian in the contest.” Under Phillips, AFP became a driving force behind the Tea Party protests against Obama’s economic stimulus plan, and the group organized the Austin mob that attacked Rep. [Lloyd] Doggett. Boosted by the mobilizing effort, AFP now boasts 700,000 members and chapters in 24 states.

Dickinson continues the article - loaded with evidence from memos he has been able to collect - explaining how the team then executed the plan to mobilize the protests, and how they collaborated with Republican leaders in Congress.

It is certainly worth a read.

Top Stories: 9/22/09

Actually, it's more like "top videos" today...

President Obama appeared on Late Night with David Letterman last night:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Funny or Die has a new video about the woes of the health insurance industry:

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay - following his involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal - made his debut on Dancing with the Stars last night:

And a friend of mine sent me this video recently. What's interesting about it is how well Obama and McCain seem to stay on message. It's funny because they're actually doing everything right.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Rekindling of the Gay Marriage Debate?

Summary: Will gay marriage make a comeback? What the right said and what it means for the continuing debate.

The Washington Independent picked up a story from the Values Voters Summit yesterday which may reignite the debate over same-sex marriage nationwide.

Sen. Tom Colburn’s (R-OK) chief-of-staff, Michael Schwartz, made some incredibly conservative comments about homosexuality and pornography in an address about “new masculinity” on Sunday.

From the article:

“Pornography is a blight,” Schwartz told an audience in a crowded room of the Omni Shoreham hotel. “It is a disaster. It is one of those silent diseases in our society that we haven’t been able to overcome very well. Now, I may be getting politically incorrect here. And it’s been a few years, but not that many, since I was closely associated with pre-adolescent boys, boys around 10 years of age. But it is my observation that boys of that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it.”

Schwartz told the crowd about Jim Johnson, a friend of his who turned an old hotel into a hospice for gay men dying of AIDS. “One of the things he said to me,” said Schwartz, “that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark… he said ‘All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.”

There were murmurs and gasps from the crowd. “Now, think about that,” said Schwartz. “And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants! You know, that’s a good comment, it’s a good point, and it’s a good thing to teach young people.”

And of course, the remarks have begun to go viral with this YouTube clip of the speech:

While nothing was said about gay marriage in particular, it’s sure to be a speech that will rile up the pro-gay left more than the religious right. Nate Silver’s post last night about the passion of gay marriage opposition explains that it’s now the liberals who feel more comfortable about sticking up for their beliefs on this topic.

It makes sense too. Back in April, we commented on what Miss California said about gay marriage during the Miss America pageant:

"By the middle of the next decade, we might very well talk about legalizing gay marriage nationally - and it may even be possible…support for gay rights is increasing at a faster pace than support for race-and/or-gender-based civil rights did…

…The GOP may be slow to recognize this growing support. Recently, the Miss USA pageant found itself in the middle of the gay marriage issue…

…Gay marriage is no longer an issue that conservatives should feel comfortable discussing on their terms - even religious terms. Far too many Americans have a deep support for LGBT rights these days, including marriage. Miss California's answer was too polarizing - not the question."

The gay marriage debate has cooled down recently since it flared up earlier this year when Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine all legalized gay marriage. Will these comments make it a heated issue yet again? Time will tell.

Top Stories: 9/21/09

The Family Research Council hosted its annual Values Voters Summit over the weekend. Politico reports that a straw poll taken there finds that Mike Huckabee is the front-runner for President in 2012 among the religious right.

Also from that straw poll, explains how passionate opposition to gay marriage is waning among Evangelicals.

Is that why former President George W. Bush refused to talk about it in the end? The Huffington Post reports on more Bush Administration dirt from the new book by Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer.

Meanwhile, the AP reported updates on Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-SC) re-election prospects over the weekend.

And President Obama appeared on all 3 network Sunday morning talk shows. Here are some of the highlights: