Friday, February 19, 2010

CPAC All Over the Place

Summary: Just when it appeared conservatives were coming to a cohesive message, their annual conference produces a strange and wide array of views.

Following the political blogs today, one can’t help but see a lot of coverage of the Conservative Political Action Conference. One thing I couldn’t help but notice is the lack of collective discipline in message.

Politico reported today that “less than an hour before Tiger Woods was set to explain himself in a press conference, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty urged conservative activists to follow the golfer’s wife and ‘take a nine iron and smash the windows out of big government.’”

Then Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) apparently embraced the “Party of No” image…

“…after a year that saw every single House Republican vote against the stimulus bill ... Republicans in Congress are back in the fight, and they are back in the fight on the right…

When it comes to more borrowing, the answer is no. When it comes to more spending, the answer is no. When it comes to some health care summit that is nothing more than a photo-op to pave the way for Obamacare 2.0, the answer is no.”

And Rep. Michele Bachmann accused President Obama of “choosing decline” for America.

Additionally, there was some infighting among the different factions of conservative activists. A Log Cabin Republicans type group, GOProud, got into something of a shouting match with the National Organization for Marriage - an anti-gay marriage group.

Then a lawyer from the Bush Administration who assisted lawmakers in drafting the USA PATRIOT Act made the interesting argument that Obama is killing too many terrorists. His speech received both applause and hissing.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about the entire event was the warm embrace of the moderate Republican - at least in his history governing Massachusetts - Mitt Romney. Even his likely presidential primary rival, Sarah Palin, appeared to be backing him today.

There are a lot of rules about message in politics - one of them is clarity. For months the GOP had done a very good job explaining themselves with one clear idea: Obama equals massive deficits.

At CPAC, they’ve been all over the place. To the average onlooker, it would be difficult to say what exactly conservatives and Republicans stand for after today.

Obviously, this is meant to be more of a conservative pep rally than an appeal to the less-political voter, but I still was surprised to see such a lack of message discipline from prominent politicians and political groups.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Being the Home Country Increases Your Olympic Medals

Summary: A data analysis of the past nine Olympics finds one reason teams want the games in their home countries.

I know this isn’t strictly political, but hopefully it discourages the sort of partisanship over sports we saw when Republicans cheered Chicago’s bid-loss for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

While watching curling, I noticed that the vast majority of cheering from the crowd was for Canada. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, as the games are hosted there, but it got me thinking: “does being the hosting country give you a ‘home-field advantage?’”

So I spent some time overlooking and processing data on the past nine Olympics – five Summer Olympics, four Winter Olympics.

I decided not to go back before the 1992 games in Barcelona because of the disparities there would undoubtedly be between the Cold War era and post-Cold War Olympics, which would almost certainly throw-off the results.

Taking into account the fact that some countries do better in different Olympics (for example, Spain and Greece – while they have hosted Summer games recently – have not won Winter medals yet) and the fact that more events have been added over the years, we find the following results.

(Click Image to Expand)

With the exception of Italy during the 2006 Torino games, every year the home country takes a larger percentage of the medals than they would on average. Additionally, there is often an even sharper increase in the percentage of gold medals (indicated by the numbers in parentheses) taken by the country hosting the Olympics.

See the full data set here:

So one would expect Canada to win six or seven medals more than they would otherwise – including about one or two additional golds (assuming the 11.48% gold increase Japan had in 1998 was an outlier which can be ignored) – this year. We’ll have to wait until the games are over to be sure.

In the meantime, hopefully we Americans can cheer for our athletes – rather than against the politicians we oppose – when it comes to the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Could This Be the Worst Campaign Ad Ever?

Some of you have probably seen this by now, but if not, it’s time you did. Carly Fiorina’s senate campaign in California recently released this ad attacking her GOP primary opponent, Rep. Tom Campbell, via

It’s hilariously bad. So bad that you may want to stop watching it half-way through. But I guarantee you’ll want to watch it through the end.

Now, in fairness, this was a web-ad rather than a television spot. But even so, if I was the consultant who produced it, I would be pretty embarrassed by my work.

You may be asking “why sheep?” “Why devil sheep?” “Why the pigs?” “Why so long?” I only wish I could answer these questions. Referring to the strange Reagan campaign commercial from 1984, our old friend Prof. Arnold Shober said today “this is the ‘There’s a Bear’ Ad gone wrong.”

And since it was released earlier this month, Fiorina has been getting a lot of (probably well-deserved) flack for the piece. I honestly cannot understand why they haven’t abandoned this strategy yet.

Plus (just in case this alone isn’t enough for you) there have been a lot of spoofs of it posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why the Barrett Campaign Can Win in November

Summary: Tom Barrett’s gubernatorial campaign in Wisconsin applies new and traditional techniques alike to defy the odds in 2010.

I can’t really count how many times now I’ve said on this blog that Democrats will have a rough year in 2010. Across the country, the GOP looks poised to retake offices up and down the ticket.

In Wisconsin, two Republican candidates – Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann – have been campaigning for several months (years, arguably) in a gubernatorial race that should theoretically be a pretty easy GOP pick-up.

Democrats, luckily, have managed to secure the bid of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who made national headlines last summer when he put himself in harm’s way to protect a grandmother outside the Wisconsin State Fair. The “Hero Mayor” status he received will go a long way towards securing the hearts of Wisconsin voters in a year that should bolster conservatives.

But the Mayor’s campaign has been doing more than relying on this status. They’ve been applying both new and traditional tactics that will go a long way come November.

For starters, they’ve been focusing hard on fundraising. Entering the race later than his Republican counterparts – in part because of Governor Jim Doyle’s late retirement announcement and in part because of the incident at the State Fair – he has had to do call-time and fundraisers at a much faster pace.


Walker's campaign said the Republican county exec raised almost $1.8 million during the reporting period and ended the year with more than $2 million on hand.

GOP guv rival Mark Neumann filed his report earlier this year. It showed he raised just more than $1.3 million during the reporting period after putting almost $1.1 million of his own money into his campaign.

Dem frontrunner Tom Barrett raised more than $750,000 over 47 days after getting into the race in mid-November and had more than $1.5 million cash on hand. His war-chest got a boost from the more than $800,000 he already had in his mayoral account when he got into the race.

Sure, the Walker campaign might have more cash-on-hand at this point, but when you break it down this is approximately what each campaign was raising per day by the end of the filing period:

Walker: $9,890/day

Neumann: $7,142/day

Barrett: $15,957/day

That’s pretty impressive.

Next, the Barrett campaign has been keeping the political community in Wisconsin confident in his chances. Just look at this email they sent regarding his fundraising numbers and a disappointing Rasmussen Poll:

The impressive outpouring of support was raised in just 47 days, making it the best fundraising start to a gubernatorial campaign in Wisconsin history. The total brought Barrett’s cash-on-hand to more than $1.5 million…

…[Scott Walker] raised just $1.79M in 6 months. For the GOP frontrunner, for a guy who's been in race for 5 yrs, in the best GOP electoral climate in 15 yrs, this is a pretty weak showing.

He has to have spent $800K-$900K this period, a staggeringly high burn rate. His administrative incompetence has wreaked havoc with the County, now it’s hurting his campaign. Can Wisconsin afford this awful mismanagement in the governor’s office?...

Rasmussen Poll Numbers

- Their methodology is unreliable

"Other pollsters and political observers have long complained that Rasmussen polls are conducted through automated phone calls that reflect only the views of the most fervent likely voters because others are likely to hang up on a computerized caller."

--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/29/09

- Rasmussen oversamples conservative voters. In the recent Wisconsin gubernatorial poll, for example, nearly 60% of respondents oppose Obama, including most strongly, a high number given 2008 election results

Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, said there was “huge concern right now” that Rasmussen was polling a universe of largely conservative-minded voters. “How is Rasmussen selecting likely voters almost a year before the election? And why would you even screen for likely voters in measuring presidential approval?” said Abramowitz. “My guess is that it's heavily skewed toward older, white, Republican voters.” 1/2/10

Emails like this are exactly the kind of thing that kept Obama supporters confident during the 2008 presidential primaries, when people were convinced Hillary Clinton would be the inevitable Democratic nominee. Obama’s primary upset over Clinton would not have been possible otherwise. In 2010, it will be tactics like this that will send Barrett to Madison.

For those who have signed up for the Barrett email list, they’ve also been receiving important updates about the race that keep them engaged and give them a sense for who the man is. This is especially important when voters cannot see speeches day-in and day-out like they did in 2007 before the Iowa Caucuses.

Take this email for example:

Dear Friend,

Tom visited a worker training facility in Kaukuana today and he sent me this note on how he thinks we can get Wisconsin's economy moving again…

Phil Walzak
Senior Advisor
Tom Barrett for Wisconsin

Begin forwarded message...

From: Tom Barrett
Sent: Thursday, February 4, 2010 1:37 p.m.
To: Phil Walzak
Subject: What I saw in Kaukuana today


I had a great time today visiting the worker training facility in Kaukauna, WI. What I saw was incredible, and represents the kind of vision and commitment to partnership that I will bring to the governor's office to create jobs, expand opportunity, and get Wisconsin's economy working again.

The training center is a 41,000 sq. ft. facility that provides apprenticeship training programs to workers in a broad range of fields. It is operated by the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 400, which is comprised of 2,000 people working in 18 counties throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

Local 400 works in partnership with 125 businesses across the region to train and supply the skilled workforce these companies need to get the job done. Basset Mechanical is one of these firms, and a representative of the company joined us for today's tour.

What I saw is a great example of the collaboration we need to get our economy working again -- organized labor and business management coming together to make sure people have jobs, and workers have the skills they need.

These are exactly the types of partnerships that I will fight to build and expand as governor, so let's be sure we are doing all we can to highlight them during this campaign.

See you back in the office,


Supporters love to see things like this because they are not fabricated. When Barrett sent the email, he clearly didn’t think it would be forwarded to supporters like it was. But by sending out an internal email like that, Walzak knew that he would make supporters feel like part of the team by giving them unmitigated access to the candidate’s informal update.

It also spoke to Barrett’s broader vision of what politics is about: not left v.s. right or Democrat v.s. Republican, but rather “let’s get the job done” – also, it's always a winning message.

And of course, the campaign was sure to let supporters know when they did well in a poll. Here is the breakdown of the latest poll taken regarding a Barrett-Walker match-up:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker are locked in a dead heat in the race for Governor, with Barrett leading by a 1-point margin (40% Barrett, 39% Walker). This is virtually unchanged from a survey we conducted in September 2009, where Barrett led by a 2-point margin (39% Barrett, 37% Walker).

Both candidates show strength in their partisan bases, with Barrett leading among Democrats by a 79% to 4% margin, and Walker leading among Republicans by 82% to 5%. Barrett holds a slight 2-point lead among independents (32% Barrett, 30% Walker).

Barrett and Walker are each known to just over half of the Wisconsin electorate, though Barrett is slightly better liked among those who know each. As illustrated in the chart to the left, Barrett’s favorables are 1 point higher than Walker’s, while his unfavorables are 2 points lower. The same is true among independents, with Barrett (35% favorable, 15% unfavorable) garnering somewhat stronger favorability ratings than Walker (36% favorable, 21% unfavorable).

How will it all turn out in the end? It’s impossible to know who will win at this point, obviously. Despite Barrett’s many strengths, Walker is a formidable opponent and he is proven to be politically-savvy.

But in a year where Democrats are expected to do poorly, Barrett has been leading a remarkable campaign thus far. It really is the best chance Democrats could have of keeping the Governor’s Mansion in 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Do Volunteers Help a Campaign?

Summary: Exploring how, exactly, volunteers help win elections.

The answer to this question may seem all-too obvious for most readers, but according to a new post by our friends at Activate, it shouldn’t be.

The old-school way of viewing that question, according to them, is that “the volunteer influence merely displaces some of the phoning or canvassing that the campaign plans to outsource at the end of the campaign leading up to Election Day.”

But as many of us know, that impact is marginal. It is important in a close race, sure, but that doesn’t seem to be important enough to make it such an essential part of a campaign’s operations.

The real impact is via the “Three Degrees of Seperation.”

From the post:

“I recall my first presidential campaign in 1988 and my boss explaining to me the first tenet of my three degrees of separation theory: Every volunteer on a campaign will influence the vote of 50 voters by virtue of who they talk to in their own lives…friends, neighbors, family, co-workers. It isn’t about how many people they reached on the phone bank or at the doors. It’s all about who they come into contact with in their daily lives.

Remember, the new paradigm: Voters are primarily influenced by people around them, people they trust.

Okay, so let’s do the math. If a campaign has 1000 active volunteers and they each influence 50 voters, the first degree of separation is 50,000 votes.

So let’s say that the second degree of separation is calculated at 20% of that, so those 50,000 voters each influence 10 voters. The second degree of separation adds 500,000 voters. So now we’re at 551,000 voters.

Okay, now we’re cooking. The third degree of separation is calculated again at 20%, so those 500,000 voters will each influence 2 voters. The third degree of separation adds 1,000,000 voters.

Now we’re at 1,551,000 votes! Think about it. How many campaigns are won with 1.55 million votes?

Figuring out how many volunteers you need is rather simple. Take the expected vote and divide it by 1,551 and that will give you the number of volunteers a campaign needs to win.”

Could it be so easy?

It’s certainly an interesting concept, and it certainly falls in line with our understanding of how volunteers go about their daily lives, and how people make voting decisions.

Unfortunately, like most things in campaign politics, it is difficult to accurately measure votes based on volunteer numbers. In other words, confirming this hypothesis is a challenge.

One concern is the size of the district and location. If a volunteer lives across the street from a different district, then a good number of the people he or she talks to on a daily basis is unable to vote in that election in the first place. Relying on them for these purposes is not as beneficial as it would be in a state-wide race.

The other worry is about overlap. What if Voter A is influenced by a volunteer, he goes and influences Voter B in the Second Degree of Separation, and she then influences Voter C, who happens to have also talked to the original volunteer like Voter A did? Certainly Volunteer C would be all the more likely to support the candidate, but a potential Voter D is left out of the picture.

All-in-all, this is just some food for thought. Activate is certainly doing the world of campaigners a service by re-emphasizing the importance of volunteers. As we’ve seen time and time again, of all the aspects of a campaign that can be controlled for, volunteers are really the most critical.