Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Come At The Senate Minority Leader, You Best Not Miss

Omar Little would react negatively to procedural reforms
that only partially curtailed his power.
Continuing on the subject of Senate procedural reform, it's worth pointing out that the structure of the institution leaves Harry Reid very little middle ground tactically. To repeat, as a norms-driven body with a plethora of available delaying tactics available to a determined minority, any attempt to curtail minority power that is deemed inappropriate by the minority will be met with maximum possible intransigence. So either Reid can come up with a set of reforms that Mitch McConnell considers acceptable and will not result in vigorous resistance, or he goes all the way and effectively shuts out the minority entirely.

I suppose there is some scenario wherin McConnell offers brief resistance, then knuckles under as public opinion mounts against Congressional Republicans. But this goes against everything that Congressional Republicans have done for the past four years.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Senate Is Not A Rules Driven Institution. Yet.

Filibuster reform is pushing its way towards the top of the news today, as both parties are using fiscal cliff negotiations as the opening salvo on filibuster issues. Current proposals seem to revolve around removing the filibuster of the "motion to proceed", and to require an actual "talking filibuster". More aggressive proposals, such as the Merkeley/Bennett proposals that would slowly shrink the number of votes required to end debate, but guarantee the minority several chances to amend a bill, or to eliminate the filibuster on nominations, don't seem to be getting much consideration. Nor have proposals to increase the voting requirements on the filibustering party by placing the burden on the minority of finding 40 votes to filibuster (rather than 60 votes to break it), or by moving the vote requirement to three-fifths of all members present (meaning that all the filibustering Senators would have to stick around Washington). People are starting to game out what might happen if Democrats actually make good on their threats to curtail the filibuster.

Over at Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, Brad Plumer points out that the Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have plenty of procedural tools available destroy the Senate in retaliation for filibuster reform. This has always been the case, but is somewhat beside the point. The way the Senate ever gets anything done -- today, at least -- is by not applying procedural tactics to their maximum extreme. I explained this in somewhat more detail in a cheekily-titled post "Commodore Barbossa & Wil Wheaton Explain Senate 'Rules'", but for a more formal description, let me turn the mic over to former Bill Bradley staffer Mark Schmitt. You should read his whole essay, but let me quote it at some length here:
It took me a while to grasp that the Senate is not a rule-driven institution. It has rules, but they don't drive the process. They are more like a toolbox made up of procedures and tactics to be used for certain conditions at certain times. ... the rules that exist can be broken or bypassed at will: Senator Byrd once pointed out that every rule of the Senate could be waived by consent, except for the rules governing who is a Senator.

That makes the Senate a kind of improvisational theater, rather than a formalized process, and while power is not distributed equally within it, every Senator has the power to initiate action (offer an amendment) or block action. ... That engenders a kind of respect or acknowledgement of each colleague. My former boss, Senator Bradley, once said something in a campaign debate early on in the period when I worked for him: "You hold power, but you must never claim power." I didn't fully understand what he meant until a few years later -- it means that whatever power you have derives entirely from your ability to influence others, create coalitions, form alliances, be entrepreneurial, etc. No one in the Senate, not the Majority Leader, not the chair of the Finance or Appropriations Committees, holds even a fraction of the actual power of their counterparts in the House of Representatives, because the power they have, if they "claim" it without consent, is so easily undermined.
The good news is that the Senate is an adaptable institution, and the current climate was created by deliberate choices by Senator Frist, who, like the president, seems to think he's some kind of CEO. Those choices can be undone, and probably will be.
Importantly, Schmitt observes that the conditions which forced the Senate to function in this more congenial, bipartisan fashion no longer exist. Party alignment now corresponds with ideological preference, in a way that it didn't as recently as the late 1990s. Typical Senate business no longer requires a bipartisan coalition. Budgets, when they happen, take place under reconciliation rules that require only a simple majority. The three major pieces of legislation during Obama's first term-- the stimulus bill, the Affordable Care Act, and Dodd-Frank--passed with a grand total of five or six Republican votes. Sure, you can get some bipartisan agreement on a smaller-bore issue like patent reform, but the major issues of the day no longer require the two parties to work together in any meaningful sense. Under these circumstances, where the big ticket agenda items aren't being solved via anything that looks remotely like consensus building, we should expect that a determined minority will continue to use every available tool to obstruct and delay.

The situation has to give in one direction or another. Either Senators will realize that the preservation of existing procedural rules requires them to return to social norms that engender more respect between the majority and the minority; or the rules of the Senate will change to mute the minority's power to obstruct the majority. But the current situation, where the written rules of the Senate give outsized power to a minority that routinely exercises it, is not sustainable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Everyday Banking Services: Think Different

Reihan Salam posted an article written by guest poster Piotr Breziziniski that falls somewhere between "thought-provoking" and either "provocative" or "obnoxious trolling", depending on your mood. Breziziniski argues that Dick Durbin's (D-IL) amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial refor mbill, which limited swipe fees on debit cards, will perversely result in more low-income households resorting to payday lenders and other services even more usurious than large banks. It's a semi-legitimate argument. If low-income households are simply non-banked rather than relying on large banks on a regular basis (and it's not clear that Breziziniski's data support that argument), that might be genuinely worse. That said, the typical low-income household does not use payday loans. Poor households are more likely to use them, yes, but most poor people still manage to get by without using them. Even so, a state could go one step further and ban payday loans, but that might or might not be a good idea. In states that have banned or restricted payday lending, households are more likely to experience other adverse financial events (bounced checks, contact from collection agencies, etc.) but from a customer satisfaction perspective, those who would use payday lending are happy to have that option to have them taken away from them.

Paying for things with your Pasmo card in Japan
is both super convenient and has minimal
transaction costs.
Still, this whole conversation about how to meet the financial services needs of poor people is awfully small. We need to break out of the mold where the only alternative to relying on banks for financial services is to rely on junk service providers like payday lenders. Residents of greater Tokyo use their "Suica" or "Pasmo" card (the service networks of the two cards overlap in some way I couldn't understand) to pay for things other than bus services. And while the primary purpose of these cards is to get on and off the subway, they can also be used as a form of payment at many museums, convenience stores, and even some restaurance. You could easily imagine greater NYC trying something similar with Metrocards, or in less transit-friendly jurisdictions, combining toll & transit payments into one card and then expanding that card's use into more generic payment services.

In addition, 7-11 and other convenience stores operate ATMs & copy machines that provide all sorts of other services, such as bill payments, buying sports & theater tickets, and so forth.  Japan Post also provides a wide variety of basic banking & insurance services. Other models exist beyond the current American bank-vs-payday lender duality when it comes to financial services.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Is Patty Murray To Thank For The New Lady Senators?

Kate Sheppard's post on the new female legislators (via Bernstein) reminds us of how women perform as well as men in elections, but are less likely to run. This year, Democrats had a large number of excellent female candidates, particularly in the Senate -- Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono, and Heidi Heitkamp. It's not like we did badly on the male side either, with Joe Donnelly, Angus King, Chris Murphy, Tim Kaine, and Martin Heinrich. But especially given lower female representation at the levels preceding the Senate on the career ladder, getting all the good female candidates we did is a great achievement.

Simply as a candidate, Heitkamp stands out above everyone else. When the North Dakota seat opened up, everybody thought it'd be an easy Republican pickup. And as far as I know, Rick Berg didn't self-destruct in any Akin- or Mourdock-like way. According to many nonpartisan reports, Heidi Heitkamp was just such a nice person that North Dakota voters elected her while going for Romney by a 59-39 margin. There's probably nobody else in North Dakota who could've won that race.

Patty Murray of Washington State was the chair of the DSCC this cycle, and perhaps she's the one to thank. If the big problem in getting women into office is getting them to run in the first place, maybe putting a woman in position to do candidate recruitment is the way to go. Definitely if Murray can find us some more Heidi Heitkamps, I'd love to see her in charge of the DSCC for the 2014 cycle.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Attacking Rice For Brown's Sake

You might think that Republicans are attacking potential Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice without any good reason, and you'd be right, assuming that by "reason" you meant "sound justification grounded in what's best for America." See Michael Tomasky for more.

But if what you meant by reason was "means to advance their partisan interest", they have a perfectly good reason to attack her. The other big choice for the position is John Kerry, and they want his Senate seat to open up so that Scott Brown can try to win a special election again. Obama has the Senate majority he needs to confirm whoever he wants. If Rice faces a filibuster or a hold or some similar nonsense, Jeff Merkley and the Senate rules reformers should use that as motivation to eliminate that sort of nonsense in January. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vote Fraud Wasn't Why Romney Kept Getting Zero Votes

Mark Steyn is claiming that Romney got zero votes in many Chicago and Philadelphia precincts because of Democratic vote fraud attempts. If this were true, he'd have far better evidence than he has.

Zeroing out an opposing candidate's votes in a precinct would be the easiest kind of vote fraud strategy to catch. All you'd need is one voter in the precinct to stand up and say, "Hey, I voted for Romney! Why are there zero votes? What happened to my vote?" and then you'd have some evidence that vote fraud had happened. If unrelated people kept saying this across enough zero-vote districts, you'd have really good evidence that fraud had occurred, and the possibility of being exposed in this way gives vote fraudsters a strong disincentive to use tactics of this sort. Steyn has no evidence of any voters from the precincts saying this. But that doesn't stop him from accusing the Democrats of having "over-stolen" the election, and says that "By comparison with Canada, Australia, and most other free societies, the integrity of the American ballot is a joke, and ought to be a source of shame."

Moreover, Steyn commits a well-known statistical fallacy, but I'll leave the explanation to my departmental colleague John Holbo (who mentioned Steyn's post to me on the way to dinner tonight). 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hostess Bankruptcy

While management tries to blame Hostess' bankruptcy on the bakers' union strike, it appears that CEO pay at the food company tripled in the past year. This looks like a case where management wasn't running the company as a good-faith business enterprise at the end. They were just trying to plunder the company on its way down. Irritating the workers and provoking a strike was just a ploy to blame the bankruptcy on someone else.

It appears that some of the company's major brands might be bought by Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo. I wonder whether Ho Hos will make the transition from Hostess to Bimbo.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More Nancy Please

Nancy Pelosi is soon to announce whether she'll be staying on as House Democratic Leader. I think she's very likely to continue. Anonymous Senior Democrat is quoted as saying, “She doesn’t want to do anything else. Is she going to back to her vineyard and raise grapes?” Sounds right to me -- she has a lot of passion for her job, to the point that I'm a little surprised when questions about this arise every two years or so.

And as all of you would expect, I hope she stays on. Minority Leaders have much less power than Speakers, but there's an important role for her to play in the upcoming session. Lots of people are talking about Grand Bargains that may be hostile to progressive interests, and which might divide the Republican caucus. That'll create a need for Democratic votes, which a more centrist leader might be too ready to provide. Eight years ago when Pelosi ascended to the leadership, she blocked Social Security Privatization from even getting through the House. With her leading Democrats, I'm confident that bad stuff won't get through. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Perry Counterfactual Just Doesn't Work

Do people really think this man could have become President?
I see Matt Yglesias is trying to play out counterfactuals where Rick Perry turns out to be able to string together two complete sentences, wins the Republican nomination, and then stands a better shot at winning the Presidency than Mitt Romney did. I've seen other versions of this story elsewhere, but I don't think they hold water.

It's true that Perry's path to the nomination would have been very straightforward. Win Iowa, lose New Hampshire, dominate in South Carolina and then Florida, at which point even if Romney wins Michigan (no sure thing, given how close Santorum managed to get), Perry would do extremely well on Super Tuesday thanks to the votes of a number of Southern states.

But I think the general election map is pretty unforgiving. I'm going to try to be as charitable as I possibly can to a Perry candidacy. Let's say that between being a proper Southern-fried candidate and having slightly less retrograde views on immigration, Perty manages to put Virginia and Florida completely out of play, and Colorado and Nevada (both states with decent Mormon populations) have the same level of competitiveness -- close, but still favoring Obama. The flip side of this equation is that lean-Obama states would have been pushed further into Democratic territory. New Hampsire would be unreachable; Wisconsin might have been as well; and the standard Republican "we're going to make a late play for Pennsylvania" script would be as revulsion to Perry's southern optics turns off just as many voters in the Eastern part of the state as it excites in the Central and Western regions. Iowa is tough to figure out; Perry's southern-ness would have been an asset in parts of the state and a liability in others. So Team Obama would be able to devote almost all its resources to the four true swing states: Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa. In three of these states (all except Colorado), Democrats enjoyed a substantial advantage in early voting organization.

This is the map we would have been looking at in the closing days
of an Obama-vs-Perry campaign. Obama would have still
been the favorite, though perhaps by a smaller margin.
In this hypothetical, there are sixteen possible sets of outcomes for these for states. Of those sixteen possibilities, Obama wins 8, Perry wins 7, and one outcome is an exact tie, throwing the election into the House where Perry wins unless his southern-fried conservatism causes Democrats to pick up some seats in the Midwest and Northeast (Obama wins OH while losing the other three states). However, Obama would have had tactical advantages in all of those states. So again Republicans would have been behind the eight ball. The campaign wouldn't have been an exact replay of the one we actually got -- candidates would have been able to narrow their focus on swing states even further -- but it would have once again been true that the election more or less "all comes down to Ohio".

This exercise produces nearly identical results if you replace "Rick Perry" with "Mike Huckabee". Perhaps Huckabee would have fared better in Iowa, reducing the election to three states instead of four. But absent putting a very green Suzanna Martinez, Brian Sandoval, or perhaps Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush on the ticket, I don't see how to make Republicans the favorite on election day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Petraeus Resigns

Sniggering about the title of the book aside, I see it as unfortunate that David Petraeus has to resign because of an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. I kind of wish Obama would tell Petraeus that somebody else sitting in the Oval Office had an embarrassing extramarital affair some years ago, and that he went on to do a pretty good job of being president, so Petraeus should just get back to work.

Better to ignore public servants' private lives and just grade them on their job performance. Keeps you from losing people who are doing their work properly.

Update: Many right-wingers are seeing all this as part of a Benghazi-related conspiracy. Foreign Policy considers several of the theories offered by people who can't spell Petraeus. I understand leaving out the 'e', but adding an 'o' or a 'y' is a larger mistake.

Biblical Literalism

Now that gay marriage and marijuana are legal in Colorado, state law follows the book of Leviticus in allowing a man who lies with another man to be stoned.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I hope the Kool-Aid Was Delicious

I swore that I wrote a post about how Mitt Romney's decision to compete in Pennsylvania, while a long shot, was at least grounded in reality. Western Pennsylvania is demographically very similar to the parts of Southern Ohio, West Virginia, Western Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky where Barack Obama is almost as unpopular as Abraham Lincoln was among whites in the Deep South. There's very little early voting in the Keystone State. There are enough electoral votes that it might open up a few paths to victory.

It turns out none of those may have been true, and Team Romney was in full self-delusion mode. They had "unskewed" their own polling to match the partisan shape of the electorate that they expected to find on Election day, which put Romney ahead in Ohio and Florida. Campaigning in Pennsylvania was in an effort to run up the score. Campaigns necessarily entail a large amount of self-delusion, but this is taking things several steps too far.

In fact, these stories exhibit so self-delusional that I'm not totally sure I believe them--they don't line up with the brazen advertising strategy of lying an awful lot that Romney embarked on in the waning days of the campaign.

Senate Republicans' Primary Problem

Democrats end this election cycle moving up from 53 to 55 Senate seats -- an especially impressive achievement when one considers that they were defending many more seats than Republicans. That they still have control of the chamber is a gift from the Republican base, which thrown away three or four good Senate candidates in each of the last two elections. Consider:
  • 2010, Colorado - Republicans nominate Ken Buck, who as District Attorney refused to prosecute a rapist who had confessed to police and to the victim. Buck claimed that the victim was just suffering from "buyers' remorse." They reject the more moderate and accomplished Jane Norton, a former Lieutenant Governor [edited, I had the wrong Norton before]. Michael Bennet defeats Buck by a tiny margin and retains the seat to which he was appointed.

  • 2010, Connecticut - Linda McMahon decides to spend some of her vast wrestling fortune on the Republican Senate nomination. She gets it instead of respected moderate former Congressman Rob Simmons. Richard Blumenthal crushes her in the general election. 

  • 2010, Delaware - Republicans nominate anti-masturbation crusader and self-described non-witch Christine O'Donnell instead of electable moderate Mike Castle. Chris Coons, who was expected to lose against Castle, wins easily against O'Donnell instead.

  • 2010, Nevada - With Harry Reid slamming Sue Lowden for her suggestion that health care could be paid for by the frontier-era method of chicken barter, Republicans pick the even more crazy Sharron Angle instead of Lowden or Danny Tarkanian. Angle is literally not ready for prime time -- her staff severely limit her contacts with the media so that she doesn't blow up her own campaign by being crazy on TV. Nevertheless, Harry Reid wins re-election by a solid 6% margin despite 14% unemployment in the state. 

  • 2012, Connecticut - Linda McMahon decides to spend more of her vast wrestling fortune on the Republican Senate nomination. She gets it instead of respected moderate former Congressman Chris Shays. Chris Murphy crushes her in the general election. 

  • 2012, Indiana - With strong Tea Party backing, Richard Mourdock unseats the distinguished Richard Lugar, who would've cruised to re-election. Mourdock is a slight favorite for re-election until a debate in which he claims that pregnancies from rape are part of God's plan. With strong support from women voters, Mourdock is defeated and Joe Donnelly is elected instead. 

  • 2012, Missouri - Facing likely defeat at the hands of Sarah Steelman or John Brunner, Claire McCaskill runs an ad criticizing Todd Akin during the primary as the "true conservative" who might be "too conservative" for Missouri. The reverse psychology works on Republican voters, who nominate Akin. Akin infamously implies that women claiming to have gotten pregnant through rape actually wanted it to happen, because in a "legitimate rape" female biology can shut down the pregnancy. Voters recoil in horror and elect McCaskill by a substantial margin.
The problem Senate Republicans keep having is that extremists defeat their more electable candidates in primaries. Jonathan Bernstein writes that "in Senate races, Democrats appear to have had a massive advantage in recruitment" which I suppose could be true at some level. But the really serious problem shows up at the point where the best candidates you've recruited have to win a primary. They get defeated by extreme conservatives who in a surprising number of cases have callous attitudes towards rape victims. 

Two For The Price Of One!

The big news Thursday evening was that Sean Hannity, along with a collection of other right-wing and center-right figures, has "evolved" and decided that the time has come to punt the immigration issue, in order. I'll have a longer post on why this might not even be necessary, but I think everyone's missing the big story.

Sean Hannity also now believes in evolution!

Gold Medal For Silver

I've finalized the VoteSeeing prediction rankings. It's total victory for Nate Silver -- he not only got every state right, but he predicted a popular vote margin of 2.5%, and 2.5% is where it stands today. 

The Incredible Stable Electorate


If you look closely enough, you can see that these two cartograms of the 2008 (left) and 2012 (right) elections are slightly different. The most recent election is definitely a brighter shade of red in the Ohio River valley and the Appalachians; the Upper Midwest is more purple than blue; and a few cities have turned even deeper blue. But the differences are generally quite small. There's nothing on par with Al Gore being reduced to an urban+suburban candidate in 2000, or even Bill Clinton's slow erosion of Southern support in 1996. Despite the weak economy, Barack Obama's electoral coalition has proven remarkably stable.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Marking My (Electoral) Beliefs To Market

In the interests of self-accountability, while I'd live to toot my own horn about getting the Presidential Election exactly right, it's worth reflecting on what I got wrong. Here are a few things I thought I knew about how elections work, but where reality has smacked me in the face to show me who's the real boss.
  • I underestimated the ability of Democratic candidates to overcome a large Romney victory in their state. Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by almost 20 percentage points in North Dakota, yet somehow Heidi Heitkamp squeaked out a victory. Jon Tester survived in Montana. Richard Mourdock in Indiana is something of a special case, so we'll set that one aside. I had thought that the 2010 marked a permanent decline in ticket splitting. That appears to be incorrect.

    I think this means Ben Nelson should have been encouraged not to wuss out the way Kent Conrad did.
  • I overestimated the staying power of moderate Republicans incumbents who look good in early polling. I didn't think Elizabeth Warren would beat Scott Brown, let alone win handily by seven percentage points. Susan Collins may be in real trouble in 2014 if she doesn't retire or become an independent.

    Note that these two beliefs aren't contradictory, but they are definitely asymmetrical. I basically thought that a Republican moderate who survived the primary in a Blue State would be close to invincible, while a Democratic moderate in a Red State is doomed, or at least well behind the eight ball.
  • I overestimated Todd Akin's ability to overcome his crazy comments about rape/pregnancy/abortion. In Indiana, Richard Mourdock didn't have time to recover, but the polls made it look like Akin might have made it close.  Instead he got walloped.

    In general, Patty Murray deserves a lot of credit for getting recruiting viable Senate candidates in what look like a tough cycle for Democrats, all at a time (2011) when people thought Obama might be a one-term President. And no one in either party should think of any Senate seat as safe. There's a median voter in every state; the right candidate can find a way to reach them.
  • I expected turnout, even in swing states, to decline much further than it really did. Nationwide, raw turnout is down by probably about 7.5% turnout as a share of estimated eligible voters is down about 6% (there are lots of uncounted mail-in ballots on the West Coast so we don't have an exact figure), putting the vote total roughly on par with the 2004 election. I thought we'd be well below that. And in swing states, turnout sometimes went up. Update these percentages now use estimates of Voter Eligible Population in each state.
    • Iowa +0.4%
    • Nevada +0.2%
    • North Carolina -0.5%
    • Virginia -2.9%
    • Florida -2.7%
    • Colorado -4.5% (?!?!)
    • Ohio -4.6%

      In the major swing states, turnout is up or declined more slowly than the national average. Note that the voter ID laws and general election maladministraion do seem to be having an effect. The rules are most burdensome in Ohio, and then in Florida, and then in Virginia.

      (technically, the proper thing to do here is compare turnout to Voter Eligible Population at the time of the election in both states, since Nevada and North Carolina are growing while Ohio's population is flat or in decline, but I had a hard time tracking down that data).
  • I expected the demographic shape of the electorate to "revert to normal" after Obama's historic 2008 election. I thought the share of the electorate under the age of 30 would decline significantly, and the non-white share of the electorate would stay the same or decline slightly, as the lack of an opportunity to make history would mean fewer people of color would vote. Instead exit polls suggest the share of non-white voters increased again, from 26% of the electorate to 28%; similarly, the share of the electorate under 30 dropped by one percentage point while the share age 30-45 grew by one point. That's a big deal, and if it's permanent, it's something that will help Democrats unless they start losing young white voters by larger margins than they currently lose old white voters. In swing states minority turnout is up substantially--evidence that the Obama ground game was indeed vastly superior.
I'm not sure what these last two points mean going forward. Is high swing state and non-white turnout unique to Barack Obama being the President? Can the next Presidential candidate capture the same enthusiasm? Can it be replicated in midterm elections? Answering those questions will prove crucial.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

GOP Has Lost Real Americans with Gamer Values

One of the first big splashes I made in the blogosphere was to riff on Kung Fu Monkey's observation that more people in America play World of Warcraft than are employed in farming. This somehow made it into Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times, through some very convoluted trail that Brad DeLong managed to catalog.

Which carries us to the news that Colleen Lachowicz, a Daily Kos diarist who was attacked during her campaign for being a member of a World of Warcraft guild, won her campaign for a State Senate seat in Maine. It's going to be hard for Republicans to compete nationally if they're unable to connect with voters who have the kind of traditional American values exhibited by people like Ms Lachowicz.

EDIT: it's worth noting that even though WoW's subscribership has dropped to 9.2 million, that's still over four times the total employment in the agricultural sector.

Pat Buchanan's Worst Nightmare

As a political adviser to Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan famously wrote that Republicans should attempt to divide the country in half in such a way that they would end up with the "larger half" [sic]. It's worth observing that attempts to re-create Nixon's strategy will no longer succeed.

If the national popular vote had split 50-50 instead of 51-49, uniformly across the country,
Obama would have only lost Ohio and Florida

At the moment, Obama is ahead of Romney in the national popular vote by about 2.2 percentage points. That total should rise slowly as the remaining ballots in California and Washington are counted. But it won't rise enough to change the basic shape of the national popular vote. Had the election been precisely even, only Florida (Obama +0.5%) and Ohio (Obama +1.9%) would have changed hands. Obama currently leads in the next closest state, Virginia, by just over 3 percentage points.

On the minus side, it appears somewhat difficult to expand the Democratic electoral coalition any further. After North Carolina (Romney +2.2%), the next-most competitive states were Georgia (R +8.1%), Missouri (+9.8%), Indiana (+10.7%), South Carolina (+11.4%), and Arizona (+11.8%). Demographic trends will probably push Georgia and Arizona into the Democratic column faster than the other states on that list.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tonight Is, By and Large, A Good Night

I'm on my sixth drink in the past five hours or so, so take this all with a grain of salt, but in general tonight is a good night. Nate Silver has been almost completely vindicated; at the moment, 49 states match Silver's projection, and Florida is leaning Obama's way (which is what 538 projected as of Election Day) meaning that if you just took the candidate who was above 50% in Silver's projection, you would have called the electoral college with perfect accuracy. Federal Republican candidates who said stupid things about rape are 0-for-3. Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin have been declared losers, and John Koster is trailing Suzan Delbene by 10 points in WA-01. Democrats will gain seats in the Senate and because of retirements the world's most annoying deliberative body will become substantially more liberal. Locally, pot legalization and gay marriage are running ahead of Jay Inslee, who is slightly ahead of Rob McKenna despite the fact King County (Seattle) is the slowest county to count ballots in the state. Things are not perfect--for instance, an initative to open up Washington state to unaccountable charter schools appears on its way to passage--but on balance, tonight is another night where the arc of the universe is long, but bends towards justice.

More when I am a bit more sober. Beaudrot out.

Everyone Loves Predictions... With Bonus Predictomatic Surprise!

I'm going to go with Jamelle's prediction of Obama winning 303-235. In other words, Romney gets FL and NC, but everything else that reasonable folk have called a swing state goes to Obama. Nick's prediction looks pretty good to me too, but I'm slightly more pessimistic about whether the unstoppable force of Obama GOTV can overcome the immovable object of Florida GOP voting barriers. I'm making a mental note to pay attention to the Ohio 2014 Secretary of State race, since that's who controls voting in Ohio.

At the Senate level, I'll go with Nick's prediction. Montana is the tightest race and thus the hardest to predict, but I think it's slightly more likely than even to go for us. North Dakota is the one I expect to be wistful about. I really have no idea what's going on in the House, but I don't rate the advantages of incumbency that highly. With the generic Congressional ballot tied, my feeling is that we'll barely miss a majority, and that will be the thing Team Blue wishes it'd focused on more this election.

And here's the surprise! (For those of you who haven't been sent there by nice people like Brad DeLong and Heebie at Unfogged yet.) I've started up this little site called VoteSeeing that will rank the presidential predictions for accuracy. So if you know of a major pundit prediction that you'd like to see ranked -- they just need to have an electoral map -- send it along and I'll put it on the list.

Today's Predictions Today: Senate Edition

What kind of number-crunching prognosticator would I be if I didn't look at the House & Senate elections?! These are genuinely tricky, since the polling is much lighter. In addition, there's some evidence that state's overall partisan lean can have an impact on downballot races.

The contested Senate elections this cycle were in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maine. In addition, gaffes by Republican candidates made the elections in Indiana and Missouri much more competitive than they otherwise would have been. Last but not least, October polls in Nebraska and Arizona showed these races were unexpectedly close. Current polling shows that Democrats will flip Indiana, Massachusetts, and replace Maine Senator Olympia Snowe (R) with a Democratic-leaning Independent, while losing Nebraska and North Dakota, with all the remaining seats staying with in the same party. There's an outside chance that Nevada (more likely) and/or Arizona (less likely) will tip in the Democrats' favor, or that they lose an upset in Pennsylvania, but I wouldn't bet on it. So the end result will most likely be a Senate with one more Democratic-leaning vote.

It's worth pointing out that while the Senate isn't getting much more Democratic, it will be getting much more liberal. Four seats will become significantly more liberal: Wisconsin (where Tammy Baldwin replaces Herb Kohl), Virginia (where Webb was a very moderate Senator outside of criminal justice issues), Massachusetts, Indiana, and Maine. Meanwhile, only North Dakota and Nebraska will shift to the right. The end result will be that the median Senate vote moves a tick to the left, from Carper/McCaskill/Manchin to Donnelly/Bill Nelson/Landrieu. That's a small movement, but it is movement nonetheless. EDIT: How could I forget! The blogosphere's favorite whipping boy, Joe Lieberman, is retiring. As long as Chris Murphy holds on in Connecticut, the Senate gets another touch more liberal and tremendously less douchey. That would move the median Senator on economic issues to something like Michael Bennett or Max Baucus, which is not such a terrible place to be.

As for House elections, I confess that I've not paid enough attention to individual races. The consensus forecast is for Democrats to make gains, but not enough to take the House, and I have no data to support or refute that consensus.

Today's Election Prediction Today

It's 5:30am on the East Coast (don't worry, I scheduled this post to show up on delay. I'm not awake at 2:30 blogging about the election). The first shift of campaign staffers and volunteers are probably just now getting into the office, prepping for the final get-out-the-vote push. Journalists are checking their RSS readers and Twitter feeds.

If you are spending the whole day refreshing your browser, just stop. If you're at work, just close your browser, and hit yourself every time you type "fivethi.." or "huffingto" or whatever. If you're not at work, go to the movies, where you'll be lest tempted to check the web on your phone/laptop than on your couch watching TV. At this point we are on the dark side of the moon, waiting for the election results to begin rolling in at 6pm EST. That's the time that polls start to close, with Eastern Kentucky and most of Indiana begining to report (sidenote: WTF, Eastern Kentucky and Indiana?!? Can't we join the real world and keep polls open a few hours later?).

At this point in the election, I stop looking at margin of victory, and just start counting the number of polls where each candidate leads, excluding online polls. Which leaves us with only one state that's a true tossup. Obama leads in 12 of the last 15 polls in Colorado and 12 of the last 15 in Virginia, while almost all polls have shown Mitt Romney with a lead in North Carolina (though the state is lightly polled, and recent polls have shown some real tightening). That leaves Florida, where the polls seem genuinely split. One factor in play here is that, according to Drew Linzer, Gravis Marketing, Rasmussen, and ARG seem be modeling a more conservative electorate than everyone else. So rather than leave Florida as "Toss-up", I'm going to project that the "everybody else" electorate model plus Obama's superior field operation will push the President to victory.

I really want Obama to win North Carolina. Compared to 2008, the early voting favors Obama in some ways--it's more African-American and has fewer registered Republicans--but favors Romney in others--it's much older than the electorate from the first campaign. And the polling all tilts in Romney's favor. So I'll be watching the Tarheel state, hoping for the best, but assuming the worst.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Prepare To Ignore the Return of "One Acre, One Vote" Punditry

I'm going to post three maps of the 2008 election. The first is the one we're probably most familiar with; it's similar to the one Brad Delong referenced showing the counties where the McCain drew a higher share of the vote than George W. Bush in 2000. There are very few such counties, concentrated heavily in the Appalachian/Ozark region, McCain's home state of Arizona, or the "Redneck Riviera" north of Tampa.

Don't get too excited about this map, though, because of course lots of counties were going to see an increase in votes for Obama over John Kerry. After all, he won by 7 percentage points while McCain. Instead we should look at whether the county's level of Republican support is growing slower or faster than the electorate as a whole.
This map is somewhat less rosy. Obama's first campaign produced terrific gains in several regions of the country:
  • The Pacific Coast and inland counties in Pacific Coast states, despite not campaigning there at all during the general
  • Heavily Hispanic regions of the Southwest
  • The Upper Midwest, which is to say, the Great Lakes states outside of Ohio and Pennsylvania
  • The Acela corridor (Obama saw "declines" in Massachusetts, probably because Kerry had been the candidate in 2004).
  • A number of counties in the Eastern half of Virginia and North Carolina. Note that these gains extend beyond the former tobacco plantation counties that have fairly large African-American populations.
  • Counties with large African-American populations in the Deep South
  • Almost every major city.
Overall, this map is very good news. If Obama's candidacy marks a permanent shift among some Midwestern voters, it will help Democrats buy time while they push to make Southwestern states more competitive.

But the map we're going to hear a lot about is this one. It's just the raw Obama-McCain map from 2008. As you can see, despite seeing substantial shifts towards Democrats in almost the entire country, much of the land area of the country consists of sparsely populated plots of land that are extremely heavily Republican.

This map is only going to look worse on Wednesday. We're already starting to hear about the lack of a "mandate" unless Obama wins more white dudes. That critique will be amplified by the critique that somehow, because all of Obama's majority is heavily concentrated in a small number of counties, he's somehow not actualy the President of the whole country. This is, of course, bullshit, but when has that ever stopped anyone in politics?

If you resize the counties so that more populous counties look larger, and the reverse for small counties, you get a somewhat fairer picture of the result. Here's one from that guy at the University of Michigan who makes these maps every election cycle:

This map makes it clearer that Obama's advantage in places like New York, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta more than overwhelms the Republican advantage in the Prairie and Mountain West.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Presidents Are Useful

The picture is from Virginia, where Clinton and Obama appeared at a rally together. I think Tim Kaine was there too. It was Obama's fourth event of the day. I like the happy background ladies.
Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, if Obama wins re-election and has a successful second term, it'll be nice to have two well-regarded Democratic elder statesmen around. They'll be useful for campaigning and generally for articulating Democratic views. The closest thing Republicans have is the Ghost of Ronald Reagan, but GOP primary debates are more his scene than rallies in the closing weeks of a tight general election.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Advances In Campaign Field Tactics and Electioneering

Saturday afternoon, my wife and I spent a couple of hours knocking on doors for the Washington United for Marriage, the campaign to endorse the legislature's decision to enact gay marriage. As is to be expected at this point in the campaign, field efforts are concentrated on turning out voters who are known to support marriage equality or are very likely to do so, but who are not in the habit of voting consistently even in Presidential elections.

Yes on R74's primary GOTV message is to get these non-habitual voters to visualize and plan the physical act of filling out their ballot and dropping it in the mail box (Washington is 100% vote by mail, though there are dropboxes placed throughout the state). The scripted questions look something like this.
  1. Have you voted yet? (If yes, you're done; otherwise, proceed)
  2. Do you plan on supporting marriage equality? (If no or unsure, at this point in the election you thank them for their time and move on).
  3. Do you have your ballot? (If no, at this point, ask them if you'd like to call the state party HQ for information on how to vote).
  4. Have you picked out a time & place to fill it out? (If they haven't start offering them suggestions ... "during the pre-game show before the football games tomorrow", "after work on Monday", etc., until they come up with something)
  5. Do you think you will mail in your ballot or put it in a drop box? (if mail it in, ask "do you have stamps or have a place where you can pick them up?" -- I swear, I'm not even making this up. If drop off, ask them if they know where the drop box nearest to their home or work is.)
  6. Remind them that the sooner they turn in their ballot, the fewer mailings, phone calls, and knocks on the door they will get.
So this is the new normal. Campaigns that are attempting to reach less-than-consistent voters are emphasizing the small amount of planning that needs to go into the physical act of voting.

When we arrived home, a card from the League of Conservation Voters sat in our mailbox that matched the research. The card included a "voting report card" that graded me as "excellent" since LCV thinks I've voted in the last five general elections. The card also listed the average voting grade for my neighborhood. This message draws from research on the most effective turnout techniques for mailed advertisements, which seems to involve comparing the target's (lackluster) voting propensity to their neighbors. The original experiment actually the listed names of do-gooders and slackers, but advocacy groups have soft-pedaled the guilt trip/shaming aspect of these messages after complaints from a few voters.

In other GOTV news, the Obama campaign has put out some of their GOTV metrics. The campaign claims they've registered twice as many swing state voters as they did in 2008 and made over 125 million in-person voter contacts in swing states (this number counts actual person-to-person interactions, not leaving literature or robocalls). The registration numbers are a little hard to interpret, since we don't know what outside groups may have been involved in registration drives in either campaign. But at the outer margins, the Obama campaign's field edge might be worth up to 2 or 3 percentage points on election day.

In Modern Democracy, Nate Silver Wins

I'm liking the Paul Krugman / Jonathan Bernstein point about how journalists shouldn't be obsessed with scoring secret information from insiders, and how a rigorous method for analyzing publicly available polling data is really what you want in predicting elections.

There are political systems in which you'd want insider information to help you figure out who would rule. If we were ruled by nobles who fought wars, you'd want some military insider to tell you whether Obama's archers were well-supplied with arrows or whether Romney's cavalry was tired.  Or in a more peaceful time, you'd want an insider from the court to tell you who the king was likely to choose for various officers. 

In democracy, the question of who rules is settled by the voting public, not by insiders or anything they have special access to. Polls allow you to simulate elections by asking a representative sample of the voting public. In old times they didn't have as many polls, so you couldn't figure things out with that much accuracy. But now there are like three polls of Ohio every day so you can. If Nate Silver (and Sam Wang, and Drew Linzer, etc.) aren't the kinds of people to turn to for information about who's going to win, you're probably not in a modern democracy. 

Where does this leave pundits who talk to insiders to figure out what's going to happen? Not necessarily in a bad place -- there are plenty of important decision points that aren't in early November, where things look kind of like military strategy (so how will Democrats bargain about the fiscal cliff?) or court intrigue (Veepstakes and nominations). Even in these cases, there's a lot to be said for the public data, but conversations with insiders will be a useful source of information. But when it comes to elections, why would you turn to anybody but the poll-averaging quants?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Barack Obama's Final Weekend Campaign Travel Schedule

Team Obama has announced their final sprint towards Election Day, which has the President traveling to Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The logic of stopping in Wisconsin and not Iowa is straightforward: the Obama campaign's early voting infrastructure has banked a much larger lead in the Hawkeye state. Likewise, Obama's early vote lead in Nevada makes his lead there that much more stable.

The six states in question represet Romney's three paths to victory. He can win Ohio, Florida, and then either WI+CO, or VA+any other state. Or he can lose Ohio and win all five remaining states. Here are the current Election Day forecasts from 538 for these states:
  • Wisconsin 88%
  • New Hampshire 75%
  • Ohio 80%
  • Colorado 63%
  • Virginia 61%
  • Florida 41%
Needless to say, team Romney has their work cut out for themselves.