Thursday, October 7, 2010

Editorial: The Difficulty in Facing November

Summary: Dave speaks to the fears that Democrats have moving forward.

Taking a look at this blog, comparing this year’s posts to last year’s posts, you can see a burgeoning trend.

Whereas last year I commented much more on Tea Parties, day-to-day embarrassments for the GOP, and Obama’s job approval ratings, I’ve now started talking more about things like the effectiveness of campaign ads and the British elections from earlier this year.

It’s because I’m finding it harder and harder to speak of good news for the Democrats going into November’s midterm elections.

It’s not difficult for Democrats to feel a bit frightened right now. Even those who (unlike me) can’t ignore the topic altogether -- those who work on Democratic congressional campaigns at the moment -- are still doing their best to practice cognitive dissidence. It’s the only way to proceed and do their jobs without falling apart emotionally.

But like all Democrats, I have to confront this fear for the moment, and speak to the reality of the political environment.

November 2, 2010, is going to be a bad day.

I’m not going to say we’ll definitely lose the House of Representatives, and I actually doubt we’ll lose control of the Senate. But I will say this much: don’t expect a terrific Congress or terrific state governments next year.

I look toward my own state, Wisconsin, as a golden example of this reasonable pessimism.

Here in the Badger State we have a governor’s race, U.S. Senate race, and two Congressional races that could easily flip their respective offices from Democratic to Republican.

We cheeseheads have proudly gone blue in the past five presidential races, two gubernatorial races, and eight U.S. Senate races. Our Congressional Delegation, State Senate, and State Assembly all have Democratic majorities.

Yet the model statesman we have always been most proud of -- Senator Russ Feingold -- is currently trailing a millionaire GOP insider named Ron Johnson by a 52%-41% margin.

The Congressional seat held by retiring Appropriations Committee Chair Dave Obey is leaning Republican. Another seat -- held by Democratic Dr. Steve Kagen -- is considered a “toss up” in the midst of a race against a Republican businessman who moved to the district (only a matter of months ago) specifically to run for Congress.

Our Governor’s mansion is also at risk of going to Tea Partying Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker -- a man notorious for flip-flopping and lacking in anything that resembles an intellectual capacity.

Why? One simple reason: the economy is bad right now.

It doesn’t matter what party screwed the economy up, nor does the fact that the same party has no real ideas to solve the problems they complain about.

As political scientists (Niemi and Weisberg, Nadeau and Lewis-Beck, Miller and Shanks, Lodge and Steenbergen) have pointed out for decades, people blindly vote against incumbents when the economy is bad. And for the past few years now, the economy has been really, really bad.

That is the nature of the problem: voters will treat 2010 like a referendum and not as a choice between leaders and their ideas.

Democrats have tried to explain to voters how they should not treat this election as a referendum. But this argument can, in practice, only limit the inevitable damage.

When this election is over, there will certainly be things the Democrats did wrong that we can point to, trying to explain our failures (after the election, I plan on writing an extensive piece on the abysmal failure that was OFA). But most of the problem really boils down to factors that are out of our control as Democratic campaigners.

So until then, let’s do all we can ever do in these scenarios, a plan of action I have come to learn well as a political operative…

…brace for the worst and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is There More to Online Ads Than Meets the Eye?

Summary: A new study suggests that online campaign ads might be more effective for voter persuasion than previously thought.

Last year, we mentioned how some political scientists were beginning to think that campaign ads were going to go the way of the dodo. We challenged that theory.

From the post:

“…we’ve mentioned how little beats voter-to-voter contact in spreading a campaign’s message and winning support. That means candidates have to rely on volunteers to make phone calls and canvass neighborhoods, as well as hopeful donors to finance it all. And just like the disappearance of yard signs would scare a campaign’s donors and volunteers, so would the disappearance of TV spots in a national, statewide, or even congressional election."

And thus, we made the following prediction about the future of campaign advertising:

“…more campaign ads will be produced, but perhaps seen less on television. With the online age, more and more ads will be emailed, blogged, and seen on YouTube than TV. It will be a more cost effective way to communicate with supporters that expect to see an operational campaign producing ads.”

However, a new study by Global Strategy Group finds that online campaign advertising might be good for more than engaging one’s supporters.

From an email blast they sent about the study:

“…likely Democratic primary voters exposed to television and online ads viewed our candidate, Chris Kelly for Attorney General, more favorably than those exposed only to television ads. Telephone polling of voters in two media markets uncovered a 19 point lift in Kelly's overall favorability ratings in Santa Barbara, where voters saw only television advertising, and a larger 23 point lift in Palm Springs where voters saw both television and online advertising. The study also showed a lift in favorability, recall and vote share among the campaign's key target audiences who were exposed to the TV and online ads.

The results of this study offer the first real evidence that campaigns can count on the web, not only to raise money and drive voters to their sites, but also to help build their brand, get their message out and positively influence voters. It is clear that online advertising will continue to play a key role in political communications in the coming years.”

Now it’s difficult to say what exactly caused the “point lift” in Palm Springs. It could have easily been attributable to more word-of-mouth communication between supporters and their friends and family. After all, supporters who see the online advertising might have been more inclined to tell their immediate contacts about Kelly than supporters who did not.

Nevertheless, the results speak for themselves. A greater online presence is certainly beneficial to a campaign, and online advertising can bolster that presence.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Political Activity Keep the Economy Moving

Hi everyone! Sorry I’ve been off the map for the past three months or so, I was working a very exciting race in Milwaukee County over the summer and had to take a break from the blog.

Now I’m back.

I’ll have more on the race I did in the future, but in the meantime I thought I’d share an interesting story I heard on NPR recently.

We all know that the United States is going through a rough patch economically. But there are some high-growth industries out there, and one of them is politics.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been an explosion of growth within the world of political campaign activity. Even Democratic consultants who disagreed with the outcome of the case couldn’t help but look around and say “there is some strong opportunity for business here.”

And just like that, one relatively nominal sector of the economy received the biggest stimulus of all -- an influx of corporate and union cash.

Now, as I pointed out back in January, it’s not likely that many of these organizations would be willing to dole out cash for independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. What happened to Target in Minnesota is a good example. But as NPR makes clear, it’s been pretty easy for these corporations and unions to do it without being identified.

It’s been an interesting election year, watching just how much of an impact the Court’s ruling -- and the precedence it’s created -- has had on the political realm. I am certain this will not be the last we hear about campaign finance issues this year.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Creating a Great Political Ad

Summary: A consultant for Joe Sestak opens up about the story behind a great attack ad.

At HSG Campaigns, we like to say that campaigning is both an art and a science.

On one hand, there is a very simple, data-driven process which - if applied correctly - can optimize the number of votes a candidate receives in an election. On the other hand, there is an integral creative process that requires a lot of hard work and sheer political skill.

In the recent Democratic Primary in Pennsylvania between Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak, one political ad reflected both components of successful campaigning.

Recently, Fox 29 News in Philadelphia interviewed Sestak consultant J.J. Balaban of the Campaign Group - a friend of HSG Campaigns - about the ad.

As you can see, Balaban applied both processes very well.

It’s an Art…
Fitting that much great footage into 30 seconds is no easy task. The Campaign Group carefully edited in what they felt was the best possible scenes that would be embarrassing to Specter’s new Democratic affiliation.

They successfully created a narrative of Specter that made him both a Republican and a politician who would do anything to get re-elected.

Deciding to end it with an image of Sarah Palin rather than George W. Bush was a particularly good idea. Palin is much more relevant to the political scene today and Bush’s image had already been used throughout the spot.

It’s a Science…
Often times the success of a campaign will come down to how well voters were targeted. In a Democratic Primary, the bloc to target is pretty simple: Democrats. To this extent, the Campaign Group knew they needed to undermine Specter as an acceptable candidate for a Democratic nomination - and as we pointed out with the narrative they constructed - they successfully did just that.

Of course, the science side of it was more complex than that. They no doubt relied on a lot of data to tell them what media markets to play the ad in and how often to play it there. Unfortunately (and for good reason) a consultant isn’t going to be as open about those data as he or she would be about the creative process.

Congratulations to the Campaign Group and the Sestak Campaign!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Illinois Senate Race Shows Democratic Divisions

Summary: The matchup between Kirk and Giannoulias is looking better for Republicans.

For months, Republicans have seen Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) as the best chance possible for winning a Senate seat in a liberal state. For them, the news just gets better and better.

Recently, Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has been under fire, as his family business - Broadway Bank - was seized and closed by the FDIC last month. His own polls show him neck-and-neck with Kirk, and independent polls find him further behind.

Now he’s having trouble earning support from key Illinois Democrats.

In an interview with Politico, Chicago Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) said “I like Alexi Giannoulias, but I have great respect for Mark Kirk and his service to the people of Illinois.” Apparently, he’s been considering a Kirk endorsement.

None of Chicago’s three black Congressmen - Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush, and Danny Davis - endorsed Giannoulias in the primary, and none of them seem to have warmed up to their party’s nominee.

From the story:

“Like all statewide Democratic candidates, Giannoulias will need strong turnout in Chicago to overcome the Republican tendencies of downstate Illinois. As of the most recent census, more than one-third of Chicagoans — and 15 percent of the state’s residents — are black. It would help on the ground level to have the backing of Chicago’s black lawmakers, including Jackson, who served as a co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s campaign and whose wife, Sandi, is a powerful city alderman.

By all measures, it’s a competitive race, and Giannoulias can ill afford to have any cracks in the traditional Democratic coalition.”

Not only would the failure to receive a Jackson endorsement (even if he doesn’t endorse Kirk) hurt Giannoulias symbolically, but mechanically as well. In order to drive turnout on Chicago’s South Side, the current State Treasurer will need help from Jackson’s important political operations there.

There is a lot that goes in to waging a campaign. Details are tricky and time is a valuable resource. But given the political landscape this year, the Giannoulias campaign will want to devote some time and manpower towards courting Chicago’s congressmen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Were Yesterday’s Voters Anti-Incumbents or Anti-Centrists?

Summary: Why all the “anti-establishment” rhetoric is only half of the story.

Last night, the May 18th Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas were characterized as anti-incumbency elections while the GOP primary in Kentucky was noted - at the very least - for being an anti-establishment contest.

In Pennsylvania, five-term Senator Arlen Specter was defeated in a Democratic primary against Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced into a run-off against Lt. Governor Bill Halter in their Democratic primary. Meanwhile in Kentucky, the Tea Party candidate Rand Paul crushed Washington-backed candidate Trey Grayson in a Republican primary.

Politico had this to say:

The anti-establishment, anti-incumbent fevers on display Tuesday are not new…[but] what’s now clear, in a way that wasn’t before, is that these results reflect a genuine national phenomenon, not simply isolated spasms in response to single issues or local circumstances.

This is a stark and potentially durable change in politics. The old structures that protected incumbent power are weakening. New structures, from partisan news outlets to online social networks, are giving anti-establishment politicians access to two essential elements of effective campaigns: publicity and financial support.

In effect, the anti-institutional forces that coalesced in recent years now look like an institutional force of their own.

There certainly was an anti-incumbency and anti-establishment mood among voters yesterday - there’s no denying that.

Last month we pointed to a Gallup poll that found voters more upset with incumbents than ever. For the first time in 20 years, less than a majority of Americans (49%) said that their member of Congress deserved re-election while an incredible 40% said they did not.

But this is only half of the story.

If you look at all the incumbents who lost in primaries in recent elections, there is one thing that makes them all similar - they were centrists.

In 2006, Senator Joe Lieberman was upset by the viscerally liberal Ned Lamont in a Democratic primary because of the incumbent’s support for the Iraq War. Lieberman was forced to become an independent in order to keep his Senate seat.

Similarly, Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) has been forced out of the GOP in the Florida Senate race. Although he had not yet faced the more conservative Marco Rubio in a primary, Crist dropped out from his party and is now running as an independent.

Specter made a similar move last year to avoid a risky Republican primary with the more conservative Pat Toomey. He hoped that by becoming a Democrat he could hang on to his seat. In the end he was forced out of office in a Democratic primary by a more liberal opponent.

Even in Arkansas - a state that is by no means liberal - Blanche Lincoln is still fighting off a challenge from a more liberal primary contender. The Paul-Grayson matchup in Kentucky also characterizes a loss for the middle-of-the-road.

So why is this the trend?

An important rule for political success is “keep your base happy” - once they’re less than thrilled with your performance they’ll either stay home in a general election or vote you out in a primary. The base is the source of support that is constantly motivated politically.

Moderate voters don’t pay all that much attention to politics and they don’t vote as regularly - and they certainly don’t vote as often in primaries. They don’t tend to knock on doors or make phone calls. They’re not dependable for political success.

In recent years these facts have become all the more important - when raising small amounts of money online from your base is easier than getting a few large contributions from richer non-political donors, appealing more to the base is critical.

Ultimately this is very characteristic of why the American political landscape is as polarized as it is at the moment.

So as much as it’s true that Washington is unpopular and the incumbency effect seems like a less positive trait than usual, keep this in mind: incumbents and establishment candidates will do fine this year.

So long as they steer clear of the middle.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Aftermath of Britain’s General Election

Summary: The election is over, but what comes next is still uncertain.

On Thursday, nearly 30 million Britons - over 65% of the electorate - cast their ballots for a new Parliament after the most exciting campaign in a generation.

So far, 649 of 650 seats in the House of Commons have been decided (the remaining seat has a postponed election due to the death of a UK Independence Party candidate, but is considered safe for the Conservatives) and the Conservative Party has the largest number of seats in the chamber.

Except they do not have a majority - so now there’s a hung Parliament.

The Conservatives - led by David Cameron - did manage to get a 5% swing to their favor (over their Labour rivals), and picked up the largest number of seats for their party in about 80 years. At the end of the night, the Tories came away with 305, Labour with 258, and the Liberal Democrats with 57.

Overall, the Tories gained 96 seats, while Labour lost 91, and the Lib Dems - surprisingly - lost 5.

So what happens next?

When the results became clear, Nick Clegg - leader of the Liberal Democrats - announced that he would give the party with the most number of seats the first chance at forming a coalition government with his party. As a result, Cameron and Clegg have been in negotiations almost continuously since Friday.

We expected the Tories would either form a minority government, or that a coalition government would be formed between the Lib Dems and Labour. The biggest bargaining chip under a Tory-Lib Dem arrangement would be electoral reform favoring proportional representation - as opposed to the first-past-the-post system.

The Tories hate the prospects of proportional representation, however, because it means they would never be able to form a majority - Labour and the Lib Dems (both of which represent the “progressive left”) could always form a coalition government under those circumstances. Thus a Tory-Lib Dem coalition seems unlikely, especially when the Lib Dem’s party rules require Clegg to have considerable support from his party’s members when reaching a deal.

On the flip side, Clegg knows that forming a coalition with Labour would not necessarily be a popular decision. Labour, and their leader - Prime Minister Gordon Brown - are very unpopular at the moment. Of course, any sort of deal those parties reach would probably require Brown to retire (Labour MPs are already calling for that) but it would demonstrate that this up-and-coming party is willing to side with the loser of the big two.

Regardless, the current talks between Cameron and Clegg have been going well according to the parties involved, and an outline of a deal has been completed. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

How does this relate to U.S. politics?

The American political situation is not too different from the British one as of last week. Incumbents are not popular, the economic recovery is slow, and the media predicts a bloodbath for the left-leaning majority party in 2010.

At the end of the day, however, it could have been a lot worse. Labour actually did better than expected by pollsters, polling analysts, and the popular press alike.

The Tories made a 5% swing against Labour and managed to take a plurality of seats.

If Republicans make a 5% swing in this year’s midterm elections - however - it won’t be enough to take Congress.

In the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to take about 40 seats - about 9.2% of the chamber - in order for John Boehner to be the next Speaker. In the Senate they need ten seats - 10% of the chamber - to make Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader.

Perhaps it’s comparing apples to oranges, but as a Democrat, the results in the U.K. give me hope for what’s to come.

UPDATE: Gordon Brown announced today that he will resign as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party. Apparently Nick Clegg has contacted Labour, seeking talks with the left-of-center party, despite the progress made during negotiations with the Tories.

Brown said "As leader of my party I must accept that that (the election result) is a judgment on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election." This helps open up the possibility of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. They'd still be short of a majority in Parliament, but with more seats than the Conservatives, they could still form a government together.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Three Days Left Before the British Elections

Summary: A recap of the UK campaign and predictions for the new Parliament.

What a wild ride the British election has been.

Before the year began, it was widely expected that the Conservative Party would win the elections, making their leader - David Cameron - the next Prime Minister.

By March, however, the Conservative victory was considerably less certain. It seemed entirely possible that the Labour Party - the current governing party - could retain power or cling on to enough seats for a hung Parliament.

Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown - the leader of the Labour Party - asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament and hold a general election on May 6 (the usual way elections work there). That gave the parties and politicians about a month to campaign.

Nobody could have predicted what happened next.

The ultimate game changer came the night of the first ever leaders debate between Cameron, Brown, and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats (a sort of moderate libertarian party).

According to polls released the next day, Clegg won the debate - in fact, he dominated compared to the leaders of what he called “the old parties” - and support for the Lib Dems actually surpassed support for Labour for the first time since the inception of the third party.

So for the past few weeks, the consensus prediction has been a hung Parliament.

Before I go any further, let me explain a few terms in British politics.

• Government = majority party (the leader becomes Prime Minister and forms a cabinet which controls the administrative business of the country)

• Opposition = minority parties

• Hung Parliament = no clear majority, either the party with a plurality forms a minority government or two parties can form a coalition (last hung Parliament was in 1974, the last coalition government - I believe - was about 150 years ago).

• Tories = nickname for the Conservatives

• Marginal constituencies = swing districts (for example, a “Labour marginal” refers to a swing seat currently held by the Labour Party).

• Colors = Labour is red, Conservative is blue, Lib Dem is yellow

There have since been two more debates, and not a whole lot has changed. Brown has still struggled to connect with voters, Clegg has continually pushed the “old parties” line, and Cameron has failed to inspire his base, instead opting to appear like a reasonable choice to undecided voters.

To Brown’s credit, he did better in the debates than people give him credit for. He stuck to the talking points, sounded authoritative, and won on the one-liners (which is huge in debates).

To Cameron’s credit, the Tories are doing better in the polls today than they were two weeks ago, and people are finally beginning to think there could be a Conservative government again.

Finally, to Clegg’s credit, he’s doing everything right. He’s even convincing Labour supporters in some Tory marginals to choose the Lib Dems because they’re more likely to win there.

So what will the results of Thursday’s election be?

Because the make-up of Parliament is decided with single-member districts and first-past-the-post elections, the Liberal Democrats won’t actually do as well as the polls suggest. Simply put, the marginals aren’t there for them.

They will, however, increase the number of seats they hold by quite a bit. Currently they hold 62 seats. That could almost double.

The Tories, meanwhile, are expected to pick up about 90 to 110 seats, bringing their total to something between 295 and 320. Labour will probably lose quite a few, possibly more than 130 seats.

First, Ladbrokes has a very cool interactive map with rolling predictions. They’re currently predicting a hung Parliament, with the Tories short of a majority by 10 to 15 seats.

If I was a betting man, however, I’d rely more on the predictions made by They’ve been following the race more closely than I have (and probably closer than most Brits have) and they’ve developed a prediction model that finds the Tories could be short of a majority by more than 25 seats. They also find that Labour will be worse off than Ladbrokes does, and believe the Lib Dems will pick up 58 seats, rather than 20.

While these are by no means conservative estimates for the Conservatives (pun intended) FiveThirtyEight has an amazing track record when predicting election outcomes.

So what happens next?

I see two possible outcomes of this election. They both involve a hung Parliament.

1) The Conservative Party forms a minority Government. This is the view many in the UK are taking at the moment. If this happens, then Cameron will be on very shaky ground as Prime Minister. He will have a tougher time with Parliament, his own party, and the British people than President Obama is having with all the American equivalents.

2) The Labour Party forms a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Frankly, while these two parties don’t get along, they’re far more ideologically similar than either is with the Tories. Power sharing won’t be easy, but they may find it necessary. They may also want to court the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) for the coalition.

Either way, it’s been a fun and exciting election to observe, and I can’t wait for Thursday. Next week we’ll recap what happened and discuss what we’ll likely see in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, you might be wondering what party you’d support if you were British. The Daily Telegraph has a good online quiz to help you figure that out. Take a look!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Achieving Marriage Equality, One Campaign at a Time

Summary: A New York State Senate race characterizes the national debate over gay marriage.

For years now, the debate over gay marriage has been a defining issue of the modern civil rights push. For years liberals and moderates pushed back against a GOP agenda that sought to ban the unorthodox arrangement in the U.S. Constitution, as well as in several state constitutions.

Today, liberals are fighting back, and over 40% of Americans believe in total marriage equality. A majority of Americans now believe that, at the very least, gays and lesbians should have the right to form a civil union.

Yet to date, only one referendum banning gay marriage has failed to pass. It happened in Arizona in 2006, where a similar ballot measure was passed in 2008.

After seeing what happened in these states - though especially California and Maine - in recent years, gay rights activists have realized the importance of political campaigns.

Yet referendum campaigns should not be the only area of focus. Recently, full marriage equality was achieved in Vermont and New Hampshire when their State Legislatures passed bills allowing gay marriages.

In New York, however, the dream fell short.

Although the New York State Assembly passed two gay marriage bills with bipartisan approval, the legislation fell 7 votes short in the State Senate. Democrats controlled the chamber, but many of them voted with the anti-marriage Republicans in the upper house.

Now some of those Democrats are feeling the heat.

From the New York Times:

“…gay rights groups, which have become major financial players in state politics, wanted to know which senators they should back in the future and which ones to target for defeat.

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s largest gay rights group, hinted that senators who voted against the bill on Wednesday could face repercussions. And Christine C. Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker echoed that sentiment, saying, ‘Anybody who thinks that by casting a no vote they’re putting this issue to bed, they’re making a massive miscalculation.’”

Enter State Senate District 10, a sprawling district in south Queens. Here the residents of the Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, and Brookville neighborhoods are represented by State Senator Shirley Huntley - one of the eight Democrats who opposed the marriage equality bill.

To be sure, Queens is not the place a politician should oppose gay marriage. The borough elected two openly gay City Council members last year and it’s a hot bed of gay rights advocacy in New York. Needless to say, gay rights activists are calling for Huntley’s defeat.

And she may have a formidable opponent. Lynn Nunes, a local politician, has been exploring a challenge to Huntley following her vote on gay marriage. Although he is not gay himself, Nunes is a strong supporter of marriage equality.

Additionally, Nunes is a strong candidate. Last year he was just barely edged out of a City Council race - by literally 4 votes - against a popular two-term incumbent. The race gave him the opportunity to build political contacts and a base of support for future campaigns - such as State Senate.

What Nunes needs now is support from the gay rights community.

The late U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neil will be remembered for many things, but for campaign people like us he will be remembered most for some of the most important words in our profession…

“All politics is local.”

In order to achieve marriage equality across America, pro-marriage advocates need to build momentum on a state-by-state basis. In New York, gay marriage is only a few votes shy of reality in the State Senate. Gay rights activists need to focus on the handful of State Senate races that will change the state’s laws.

What better place to start the march towards full equality than on the streets of south Queens?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Midterm Money: What the Fundraising Figures Are Telling Us

Summary: Mixed results for Democrats and Republicans should make for an interesting year.

Two weeks ago we noted how the campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2010 would be something to watch when thinking about how this year’s midterm elections will shape up.

Well, the numbers are coming in. What do they tell us?

Democrats Are Falling Behind

Republican challengers in ten of the most competitive Democratic seats have outraised the incumbents. A few of them weren’t just edged out by the GOP candidates, they were crushed.

From Politico:

Democratic Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Ron Klein of Florida, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Harry Teague of New Mexico, Jerry McNerney of California, Larry Kissell of North Carolina and John Hall and Michael Arcuri of New York were all outraised by GOP candidates running against them.

For some of the incumbents, the financial disparity was stark. Arcuri raised just $208,000 in the first three months of the year – about $150,000 less than challenger Richard Hanna brought in over the same period. Teague, who has the capacity to put some personal resources into the race, brought in $134,000 to former GOP Rep. Steve Pearce's $278,000.

Still, others were only edged out, and for the most part the Democratic incumbents still retain the advantage in cash-on-hand. Besides, I personally have worked on campaigns in which an incumbent lost the first quarter fundraising contest and still won in November.

Democrats Are Ahead of the Game

Despite the dire forecast for Democrats made by Politico, other targeted Democrats did particularly well last quarter. Reps. Tom Perriello (D-VA), Betsy Markey (D-CO), and Alan Grayson (D-FL) all raised over $500,000 from early January to late March, bringing each of the war chests to over a million dollars.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) raised nearly $2 million, bringing his cash-on-hand to an incredible $9.4 million - something unheard of in a state with such a small population.

Raising money is always easier for incumbents - it’s one of the so called “powers of incumbency.” And it’s a lot easier when the President of the United States is on your side.

From the Los Angeles Times:

With midterm elections looming, President Obama is raising campaign money at a ferocious pace, tapping into an energized corps of Democratic donors.

Obama trailed his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the amount of money raised 13 months into their tenures ($32 million to $53 million), but had more than twice the number of fundraising appearances (33 to 13) compared with Bush…

… Polls show Obama enjoys less popular support than he had when he took office 15 months ago. Yet his fundraising prowess shows that he remains a powerful political force who can stockpile chits from grateful Democratic candidates eager for his help.

Meanwhile, Democratic challengers have outraised at-risk GOP Representatives Joseph Cao (R-LA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA).

However, it’s important to remember that despite the good news, it’s still going to be a tough year for Democrats.

According to Reuters:

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics, says Democrats received about 57 percent of all campaign donations in the current election cycle as of December 31. By contrast, Republicans claimed about 62 percent of campaign donations just before they lost control of Congress in 2006.

Questions That Need Answers

In our last post on fundraising, we also posed three questions to keep in mind when reviewing the campaign finance figures.

Who is winning and losing on health care reform? Will the RNC’s woes be another Republican’s gain? And how will the Citizens United case play a role?

First, it would appear Democrats are winning on health care reform. Even if it hurts some particular Democratic campaigns, the DNC saw a huge spike in fundraising once the overhaul passed - and that money can filter down to the at-risk incumbents.

Second, it is not yet obvious that the RNC’s frequent PR problems have shifted money to individual Republican campaigns, although the RNC did fall behind yet again in fundraising.

Third, the impact of the Citizens United decision has not yet been seen at all. However, it is likely that we’ll see more on that front in the coming months.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Bad Week for Democrats

When healthcare reform passed, Democrats were convinced their troubles were over. No more worrying about the midterms - Republicans won’t be able to win on a message of repeal. No more worrying about a disaffected base - we’ve accomplished something that generations of politicians have strived to accomplish.

Except you wouldn’t know it last week.

New Gallup polls find the image of the Democratic Party at a record low, the GOP tying on the generic ballot, and President Obama’s approval rating was down considerably.

The outlook for incumbents is especially bad right now. Only 49% of Americans said they believe their member of Congress deserves to be re-elected - that’s lower than when the question was asked in both 1994 and 2006.

Then there are the retirements. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) announced he would be stepping down, leaving his conservative northern Michigan seat open in a Republican year.

Then Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his intention to retire, leaving the President with the task of choosing a replacement - a task that will no doubt give Republicans a great political opportunity to characterize Democrats as “judicial activists” trampling on the Constitution.

Overall, things look about as bad as they can look for Democrats in the House. The new 2010 model by political scientist Alan Abramowitz projects a 37-seat swing for the GOP.

On the Senate side, things don’t look much better . CQ Politics is predicting eight seats will be toss-ups this year - four of which are Democratic - most of which with polling that suggests GOP take-overs. Arkansas - currently represented by Democrat Blanche Lincoln - is now in the “leaning Republican” column, while North Dakota - currently represented by Democrat Byron Dorgan - is considered a “solid” Republican seat now.

Even in Wisconsin - considered a “solid” Democratic seat - incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is facing a competitive challenge by Real Estate developer Terrance Wall, with former (and popular) Governor Tommy Thompson and former Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce (and well-known beer family heirloom) Dick Leinenkugel considering their own bids.

Despite all of these setbacks, it’s important to remember that one week is only one week.

There is still another 204 days until Election Day this year, and a lot can change over these next several months.

The economy hasn’t been great, but it’s getting better. Hopefully economic confidence is back to pre-2008 levels by Labor Day.

Many of the good things in the recent healthcare overhaul won’t actually be noticed by consumers for at least another two months. Hopefully support for this legislation increases when Americans can actually start to reap the benefits of it.

The average onlooker would say Democrats are in for a bloodbath this year. It certainly won’t be an easy year for us, but remember that politics is a difficult spectator sport, and it’s still to early to say anything for sure.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Show Me the Money: First Glimpse into the Midterms

Summary: With the first quarter over, campaigns prepare for a competitive year.

A lot of people have enjoyed speculating the outcomes of this year’s midterm elections. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. We’ve all done it.

This morning I read an interesting post by a liberal blogger who claimed we’re in a “new progressive era” in which Republicans simply won’t win this November. He claims Democrats are in good position with the base now that the healthcare bill is law and we don’t really need to worry anymore.

On the other hand, a new Gallup poll finds that 37% (a significant number) of independents views the Tea Party movement favorably. Meanwhile, Friday’s jobs report found that unemployment is still hovering around 10%.

So how can we know we’re speculating the right way? We can’t, of course.

But there is one important, relevant, and tangible way to get a glimpse into this year’s midterm elections: campaign finance figures.

At this point, we still don’t know exactly how it’s going for everybody - the filing isn’t due until later next week. Until then we’ll just be getting periodic and voluntary fundraising updates from individual campaigns. For now, here are three interesting things to watch for when looking at fundraising headlines…

1) Who is Winning and Losing on Healthcare?

After the healthcare bill passed, CQ Politics reported that it led to a big influx in contributions to candidates of almost all stripes. The exception was moderate Democrats, especially the ones who switched their votes one way or another. Both GOP and primary challengers saw big gains in their war chests as a result.

2) Will the RNC’s Woes Be Another Republican’s Gain?

We all know the RNC has had money problems lately. A lot of donors are now discontinuing their relationship with the organization. The question is whether or not this loss will be offset by more money going to individual campaigns.

3) How Will Citizens United play a role?

A big concern about campaign finance this year has been surrounding the Citizens United v. FEC case from last year, as well as a lesser known case the RNC took to the Supreme Court over soft money contributions. Can Democrats use it to raise more money? Will Republicans bring in less because resources will shift to corporate IEs? We’ll have to see.

Do YOU have any good tips, suggestions, or questions for watching the first quarter fundraising results? Let us know!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Republicans: The Next Underrepresented Americans?

Summary: Anti-government conservatives have been slow to return their census forms.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle today, politically conservative Texas has been behind in completing the 2010 Census so far.

From the article:

Texas is counting on the 2010 Census to deliver four new congressional districts, four new Electoral College votes in presidential elections, and millions of dollars in additional federal aid. But, as some elected officials are starting to worry, Uncle Sam can't deliver anything to the rapidly growing Sun Belt state unless Texas residents deliver their forms back to the government.

As of Friday afternoon, only 27 percent of Texas households had filled in and returned their census forms — well below the national average of 34 percent — according to computer data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

And there is reason to suggest politics is behind this trend.

Polling by the Pew Research Center finds Democrats are more likely than other Americans to view the census as “very important” to the country. Seventy-six percent of Democrats call this year's count very important, compared with 61 percent of Republicans and independents.

In Texas, some of the counties with the lowest census return rates are among the state's most Republican, including Briscoe County in the Panhandle, 8 percent; King County, near Lubbock, 5 percent; Culberson County, near El Paso, 11 percent; and Newton County, in deep East Texas, 18 percent…

…There is a reason for the enthusiasm gap on the census: A number of prominent conservative and libertarian Republicans have been blasting the census for months…

…Earlier this month, Texas Rep. Ron Paul voted against a congressional resolution asking Americans to participate in the census.

“The invasive nature of the current census raises serious questions about how and why government will use the collected information,” the Lake Jackson Republican recently said. “It also demonstrates how the federal bureaucracy consistently encourages citizens to think of themselves in terms of groups, rather than as individual Americans.”

Houston-area GOP lawmakers say anti-census feelings run deep among their constituents.

“People are concerned about the apparent intrusive nature of the census,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble. “People are very concerned that the government is going too far.”

Of course, it is considerably more expensive for the government when you don’t return your census form. Because the Census is required in the Constitution, the Census Bureau has to hire interviewers to go to your home if you fail to send it in the mail.

But because the Census is apparently “intrusive” conservatives seem to be willing to add a bit more to the national debt. Plus they seem to be less interested in the fact that they would lose representation in Congress.

Not that those Democrats would mind the latter prospect.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Begging for a Reasonable Republican Party

Summary: Paul Krugman articulates what every liberal is currently feeling about the GOP.

I was hoping to bring you the final results of the Iraqi election today, but it appears that they haven’t quite finished counting the ballots on time.

So instead, I thought you would like to read Paul Krugman’s latest editorial for the New York Times. Simply put, it puts what every liberal is feeling into words.

From his piece:

I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn’t seem quite as entertaining — and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America’s future, you can’t be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties.

To be sure, it was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats “will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.”

Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable.

And it’s been a hoot watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. His best shot was declaring that enacting reform was an “unconscionable abuse of power,” a “historic usurpation of the legislative process” — presumably because the legislative process isn’t supposed to include things like “votes” in which the majority prevails.

A side observation: one Republican talking point has been that Democrats had no right to pass a bill facing overwhelming public disapproval. As it happens, the Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they perceive as the merits.

But in any case, the message from the polls is much more ambiguous than opponents of reform claim: While many Americans disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that it doesn’t go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform’s enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming pleased that it passed.

But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

No, to find anything like what we’re seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president.

Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy — Dick Armey, the second-ranking House Republican (and now a Tea Party leader) referred to him as “your president.” Threats were common: President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, “better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.” (Helms later expressed regrets over the remark — but only after a media firestorm.)

And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.

Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it’s clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.

For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan — not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It’s a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans’ economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It’s a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side — Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions — are mainstream. And, as a result, it’s a party that fundamentally doesn’t accept anyone else’s right to govern.

In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it’s a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t.

Another good piece on this subject, by journalist Beth Arnold, is currently on the Huffington Post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Healthcare Reform Can Still Hurt Senate Democrats

Summary: Democrats in the upper chamber will have to defend some indefensible votes this November.

As you may have heard by now, the healthcare reconciliation bill will have to go back to the House of Representatives. The fear among proponents of the bill was that Senate Republicans would offer amendments that Democrats could not pass up, which would automatically mean it would need to go back to the House for approval.

What actually happened: the Republicans won on a point of order at 3:00 AM this morning using a parliamentary rule that by necessity changes the bill in question. Democrats have thus far been resilient to resist tempting amendments.

This means that little in the bill changes, it will likely be passed about an hour from now, and be approved by the House later tonight. President Obama will then likely sign this last piece of healthcare legislation in to law by next week.

And as we mentioned Monday, healthcare reform success should help Democrats in the midterm elections this November.

At least in the House - the Senate may be a different story.

So far the Senate GOP has introduced no less than 146 amendments to the reconciliation bill that Democrats have had to vote against to guarantee swift passage. They’ve been steadfast, but it comes at a price.

Among some of the amendments:

S.AMDT.3556 - Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment “prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists” under the government’s health insurance exchange.

S.AMDT.3639 - Senator John Thune (R-SD) introduced an amendment to “ensure that no State experiences a net job loss as a result of” healthcare reform.

S.AMDT.3564 - Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment that guarantees “the President, Cabinet Members, all White House Senior staff and Congressional Committee and Leadership Staff are purchasing health insurance through the health insurance exchanges” established in the overhaul.

Now who would disagree with these measures?

Most people wouldn’t. And that’s exactly the point. Republicans are making sure that Democrats have to choose between a rock and a hard place.

The rock: the healthcare bill faces a tougher time getting passed.

The hard place: Democratic Senators at risk in 2010 have to face attack ads that say “Senator So-and-So voted to give rapists Viagra at the taxpayer’s expense.”

The hard place is a lot more important.

According to Nate Silver’s most recent Senate Forecast, there’s more than a 50% chance that the Democrats will lose at least 5 Senate seats this year. There’s even some chance - albeit, a small one - that they could lose the majority.

Protecting our at-risk incumbents would be a lot easier if they didn’t have to make some of these votes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Fake Census to Watch Out For

Summary: A conservative interest group sends out a fake census for political purposes.

Back in January, the Republican National Committee raised criticisms for sending out a fundraising mailer labeled as an official “census document.”

WAYLA has recently uncovered a similar fundraising mailer from the Secure America Alliance, a project of the conservative (or even nationalist) U.S. Public Policy Council. Other projects include American Boarder Control and American Energy Independence.

The envelope it was sent in is marked “Phase 4 Census” and mentions the Secure America Alliance. However, it does not explicitly say anywhere on the envelope or in the enclosed documents that it is not an official 2010 Census form.

The following images are of the “census” document enclosed:

By the time you see Section 2 it should be obvious that this is not an official census form - the official census will not ask you if you support the sitting president’s agenda. Nor will the census ask you for money, like it does in Section 5.

Okay, so the mailer is specifically meant to raise awareness about a pending Totalization agreement with Mexico and to raise money for this obscure political organization.

According to an attached letter:

“This Census is built around one of the most important issues facing Social Security today: Totalization.

Totalization is the scheme that will give Social Security checks to illegal aliens…

…You have been carefully chosen to participate in this Census. And this Phase 4 Census has been officially registered with your name and a special identification number…”

That sounds a little suspicious, doesn’t it? What else does it say?

“…A lot of Americans don’t even know about this disastrous plan to give Social Security Checks to illegal aliens…

Most Americans don’t know just how dangerous the Social Security crisis is…”

I’ll say. A Google News search of “Totalization” doesn’t find anything regarding a U.S.-Mexico treaty.

A broader search, however, does find a 2004 news release from the Social Security Administration:

“[A Totalization] agreement with Mexico would save U.S. workers and their employers about $140 million in Mexican social security and health insurance taxes over the first 5 years of the agreement.

An agreement would also fill the gaps in benefit protection for U.S. workers who have worked in both countries, but not long enough in one or both countries to qualify for benefits.

Mexico is the second largest trading partner with the U.S. Agreements are already in effect with Canada, the largest trading partner with the U.S., and 19 other countries.

With Mexico, the U.S. now has signed agreements with eight of its top ten trading partners. Many of these agreements have been in effect for nearly two decades. The two exceptions are China and Taiwan. By law, the U.S. could not enter into agreements with these two countries because they do not have generally applicable social security systems that pay periodic benefits or the actuarial equivalent.”

Well, just in case that sounds reasonable, Ronald Wilcox (the Executive Director of the Secure America Alliance) signs his letter and adds “P.S. Social Security is for Americans. It’s not for freeloading illegal aliens who are looking for a handout.”

In a lot of ways, it all sounds too crazy to be taken seriously. Plus, the organization’s website doesn’t inspire confidence that this was conducted by a D.C. professional.

Yet the substance of the letter does include some classic indicators of astroturfing. Namely, it’s regarding an issue that absolutely no one has ever heard of. Additionally, a 2007 document connects this group to Stuart Grey, a conservative direct mail and fundraising consultant in Washington D.C.

Here are some other interesting notes about the “Census” they sent:

• In Section 1 they ask about gender, age, marital status, and employment. Then in Section 4 they ask about magazines the respondent reads. These questions will yield results that will be strikingly similar to the kinds of demographical and consumer-based data that the two main parties use in their voter files.

• The timeline they give (“within the next three days”) to submit the “Census” is awfully short.

• There is a TON of fine print under Section 5.

• The envelope clearly mentions “Registered for use by the addressee listed below…Tampering with mail is a Federal Crime.”

So a lot of things about this mailer should raise a few eyebrows. Either way, it is not a real Census document, and I would advise anyone receiving it to immediately throw it out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How the New Healthcare Law Changes the Dynamics of 2010

Summary: the Democrats’ legislative success means an electoral challenge for Republicans.

President Obama finally signed healthcare reform into law this morning. Soon, millions of uninsured Americans will have access to healthcare, sick Americans will be at lesser risk of losing coverage, and insurance prices will stop skyrocketing.

Over the past year, the healthcare debate has changed the political landscape entirely. It has led to the growth of the Tea Party movement, made members of Congress like Bart Stupak and Joe Wilson household names, and seriously depleted Obama’s approval ratings.

By the end of 2009, we warned that a failure to pass healthcare would mean more trouble than security for the Democratic caucuses in Congress.

Now that it’s passed, the tables have turned. Republicans warn that a “yes” vote on healthcare will mean trouble for Democrats come November, but it is the GOP that needs to start worrying.

They’ve been pursuing a strategy of “no” for the past year. Even now, they’re only suggestion is to repeal the law.

Except most of the legislation is quite popular. Measures that most voters would generally approve will be in place before July, including the end of pre-existing conditions. Young Americans could stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26, and insurance companies would be unable to drop someone from coverage when they get sick.

One of the demographics most afraid of the overhaul - the elderly - will see huge benefits very soon, such as free preventive care and the closing of the Medicare Part D donut hole.

Republicans won’t actually want to repeal all that, will they?

Democrats, meanwhile, saved themselves a lot of trouble by proving to their base they could accomplish something. Things were looking pretty dismal here and there throughout the debate, and Democrats around the country were becoming less and less confident in Congressional leaders.

They won’t be feeling quite so disaffected come November, knowing that near-universal healthcare was achieved as promised.

Watch the President's remarks here:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can Labour Still Hold on to Parliament?

Summary: A new poll predicts a slimmer swing to the Tories in Britain than previously expected.

I know we blogged about foreign elections yesterday, but the news from the United Kingdom this morning is worth mentioning. Back in January we noted how many in Britain had come to accept a Conservative Party victory in this year’s elections for Parliament. Now it’s more difficult to say what will happen.

It was recently revealed that a key Tory lord who will be bankrolling the party’s campaign operations has maintained a “non-dom” tax status (which allows him to forego taxes on international earnings) despite pledging to end it a decade ago. That’s creating problems for his party’s leader, David Cameron.

A new poll of the marginal constituencies (or “swing districts” as they would be called here) finds the Conservatives might be underperforming if they want to form the next government (or “majority” as we would say).

From the London Times:

The poll shows that the switch of voters from Labour to the Tories is about 1.5 to 2 points higher in the battleground seats than nationally. That might be worth an extra 20 MPs to the Conservatives, smaller than many in the party would hope after the big spending on these targets. It might be enough only to take the Tories to the threshold of the 326 seats they need for a bare overall majority in the Commons.

Now, the poll excluded the Tories’ top 50 targeted seats - surveying the next 100 - as well as the seats they’re targeting that are currently held by Liberal Democrats. That might make a difference, but either way it’s all beginning to look a lot closer than expected.

From another Times article:

If the swing implied by the poll occurred uniformly across the 100 seats, the Tories would gain 47, on the top of the first 50, to give them 97 Labour-held seats. Taking account of changed constituency boundaries, this would mean 307 Conservative MPs, up from a notional 210 at the last election (after adjusting for boundary changes). This would put them nearly 60 ahead of Labour.

While this poll is just in Tory/Labour marginals, the Tories would expect to gain a number of additional seats from the Lib Dems and other parties. They would need to gain at least an additional 15 to 20 seats for an overall majority of one in the new House of Commons.

In fact, an increasing number of Brits appear to be expecting a hung Parliament after the elections.

Basically, a hung Parliament is when no single party controls a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In these circumstances, two or more parties have to form a coalition government.

If the Conservatives fall short of a majority, they won’t necessarily be in too bad of shape. They’ll still be close to a majority, and could easily join with minor center-right parties such as the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists from Northern Ireland. That would put them over the 326-seat threshold.

Labour, on the other hand, would be further behind. It would take more than the Scottish and Welsh national parties to help them form a coalition - they would need to consolidate with the Lib Dems in order to keep sitting on the government benches. Whether that would be possible or not is hard to say.

No matter what parties make up the government, it will be with a slim number of seats. It could certainly make for an interesting few years.

While the exact date of the elections is still unknown - the Labour government has still not called for them yet - they have to happen soon in order to stay within the constitutional rule of every-five-years. Most Brits are now guessing they will take place on May 6th.

Also, for a bit of fun, be sure to check out Sky News’s poll tracker. It can generate levels of support for each of the main three British parties as far back as 1983.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy Election Day 2010…in Iraq!

Summary: Iraqis went to the polls today in what is sure to have been a close election.

Turnout in Iraq’s elections today were down a bit from 2005 - in which about 76% of the country cast ballots - but estimates show that about 55% - 60% still came to vote.

So who was running and who will win?

Well, for starters, the dynamic has changed up quite a bit since the last national elections. The number of seats in Parliament is increasing from 275 seats to 325 seats, accounting for an increase in the general population (as their constitution requires).

The parties have changed around a bit as well. There are dozens of parties - as well as several independent candidates - which form into coalitions. The main three for 2010 are the State of Law Coalition (headed by PM Nouri al-Maliki), the National Iraqi Alliance, and the Iraqi National Movement (headed by former PM Iyad Allawi).

Now, al-Maliki’s Islamic Da’awa Party used to be part of the National Iraqi Alliance, until they split around 2008, and now run on separate tickets. As a result, the bloc of parties that will control of Parliament is not as certain as it was in 2005.

In fact, a poll last month by Iraq’s National Media Center of 5,000 voters seemed to confirm the uncertainty looking forward.

So it appears unlikely that there will be a clear cut winner after the ballots are counted. It is more likely that negotiations between the parties will go on for some time while they jockey for position while combining (or even splitting) party coalitions and forming a government.

This is unfortunate because it could lead to a lot of tension among Iraqis, especially during a period in which there is no government to act. Some would say it was this period following the 2005 elections which sent the country into two of the bloodiest years of the Iraq War.

Luckily, this year’s coalitions have so far formed less around sectarian similarities and more around political ones. It is possible that this will be easier on the country as the political battles won’t be over ancient religious rifts.

We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read-up on the campaigns, take time to read this interesting analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Will a Controversial RNC Presentation Bring Down Michael Steele?

Summary: An internal RNC document - mocking donors and encouraging politics of fear - finds its way on to the internet and embarrases party leaders.

On Wednesday, Politico broke one of the most interesting stories about the RNC of the entire 2010 election cycle. An internal document - a PowerPoint presentation by the RNC finance staff - mocked their donors and explained how to play to their shortcomings for fundraising purposes.

There were some other interesting things in the presentation. For example, it mentions how the RNC plans to fight the FEC over soft money, refers to a fundraiser with the firm formerly known as Blackwater, and complains about all the “regulations” the RNC must abide by - even listing the Defense Department, the Patent Office, and Postal Service of regulating them.

The USPS regulations they refer to probably have to do with the “census” fundraising mailers they’ve been doing.

But the most shocking things were how they characterized the Democrats and their own contributors.

The presentation lists two kinds of contributors: the “reactionary” small donors and “ego-driven” large donors.

The small donors, according to the slideshow, do “visceral giving” based on “fear” and “extreme negative feelings” about the Obama Administration. The large donors do “calculated giving” based on “peer-to-peer pressure”, “networking opportunities” and “access [to politicians].”

Of course, large donors are becoming skeptical of the RNC and the committee’s fundraisers have begun to rely more on small donors. Thus, the document says “What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate…? Save the Country from trending toward socialism!”

Finally, one slide includes images of how RNC fundraisers should depict Democrats.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele, and his press staff, have been distancing him from the presentation. Steele even went on Fox News recently to defend himself and his party.

To say a few words in defense of the RNC finance staff, none of what they’re saying is technically untrue. These are well-grounded ways - on both sides of the spectrum - of effectively raising money. Furthermore, the parts of the presentation that have been getting so much attention are a relatively small part of the presentation.

Most of the presentation is pretty boring, and is of little interest to the common person (although it’s loaded with strategic details such as fundraising goals that will be quite useful for the DNC to know).

But this much is true: the RNC finance staff must have been pretty stupid to put such a cynical slant on the game in a document that could be found and posted online, especially one that admits that they’re willing to drive a radical anti-Obama message for the sake of raising money.

This is not the first time we’ve mentioned that the RNC is having problems - including fundraising difficulties - during the 2010 cycle. In fact, despite all the predicted success for the GOP this year, these internal issues are weighing down on their optimism.

I would go a step further than simply acknowledging some problems in the RNC. I would say that the committee has been completely falling apart lately. Furthermore, it all seems to have started when Michael Steele took over as chairman.

This latest scandal is just one more disaster on top of an already dismal position for the Republican National Committee. Steele has not been popular with committee members for some time now, and - depending on their internal rules, which I’ll admit I am unfamiliar with - they may impeach him or at least demand a resignation in due time.

I now have to imagine that he won’t complete his term at the RNC. So here’s the question: just how much longer can Steele last?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who Are the Millennials? (Part 3)

Summary: Wrapping up our short series on America’s youngest generation.

We hope you’ve enjoyed - and learned from - our posts this week regarding the Millennial Generation.

To wrap up this mini-series, we thought you’d be interested in seeing this PBS report on the Pew study we looked at.

And you can find out just how Millennial you are by taking this short quiz!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who Are the Millennials? (Part 2)

Summary: The youngest generation of Americans is the most technologically savvy. Knowing how they communicate and obtain information is paramount to engaging them politically.

Yesterday we examined a new Pew Research Center study on the Millennial Generation to find out how they were different from older generation in terms of politics and values. While we found that there were some striking differences, they pale in comparison to the differences in terms of technology use.

From the study:

Technological change and generational change often go hand in hand. That’s certainly the story of the Millennials and their embrace of all things digital. The internet and mobile phones have been broadly adopted in America in the past 15 years, and Millennials have been leading technology enthusiasts. For them, these innovations provide more than a bottomless source of information and entertainment, and more than a new ecosystem for their social lives. They also are a badge of generational identity. Many Millennials say their use of modern technology is what distinguishes them from other generations.

WAYLA often examines trends in New Media and their impact on the political scene. But what’s interesting is that the older generations - who are more likely to vote - are typically not the most likely to use these media.

Millennials dominate in terms New Media and cell phone technology. Three out of every four Millennials use online social networking, compared with just half of Gen Xers, and less than a third of Baby Boomers.

Almost nine out of ten Millennials use their phones to text, and do so about 20 times per day. 83% of them sleep next to their cell phones, compared to 68% of Gen Xers and 50% of Baby Boomers.

They also appreciate technological advancements and innovation more than the average American. While almost a third of Baby Boomers believe these new technologies have made life more complicated, a staggering 74% of Millennials say they’ve made life easier.

One reason Millennials like these new technologies, no doubt, is because they’ve made it easier and more affordable to follow the news - especially the selective news they are interested in. They’re considerably less likely than their parents or grandparents to get news from television or newspapers, and more likely to find it on the internet.

In fact, “kids these days” are considerably less likely to watch television in general than any other age group.

None of these trends are necessarily surprising though, so why do we bring them up?

Knowing your audience is always important. Thus communicating via social networking services and texting will require different messages than traditional media.

Now, one of the most important rules in politics is maintaining a consistent message. But what areas of the message you focus on will differ depending on what media you use.

Understanding that Millennials - who have different perspectives and values than older generations - are more likely to use these new media sources means that tailoring your message over these media should reflect more on their concerns.

For example, Republicans should steer clear of stressing so-called “traditional family values” on Twitter and Facebook. Democrats should feel more free to promote issues in terms of equality and less compelled to defend the role of government in the economy. And while it would never hurt to do so, neither Republicans nor Democrats really need to hype veterans’ issues.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the topic of the Millennials one last time to wrap-up some key thoughts on the generational shift we’re seeing and its impact on politics.