Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Not much up on a Thanksgiving week. Plus with travel and all I'm sure I missed plenty. I'm sort of tempted to go with "blue slip" obstruction breaking through into national news, but I'm not sure yet whether it matters or not....I'll be dull and just repeat one of my items from yesterday about the ACA end-of-month deadline: fixes (or failures) certainly matter to the individuals affected, but I still don't think the future of the program is at stake, or that how close is to fully functional in the next week (or even month) will have much effect on the 2014 or 2016 elections.

That's what I have. What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

And Happy Hannukah, too, for those celebrating the holiday.

Meanwhile, I have one up over at TAP about electoral effects of the Syria deal.

And then I had one over at PP about blue slips.

I'll be over at Greg's place on Friday. Maybe something here before the weekend, maybe not.

Enjoy the holiday(s)!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Randy Milligan, 52. Would presumably have had much more of a career today than back then. The "free so-and-so" campaigns of the 2010s just aren't what they used to be. Not a superstar talent, but a guy who could get on base 40% of the time really should have found a job somewhere.

The good stuff:

1. Amy Lerman over at the Monkey Cage on public opinion, Medicare, and the ACA.

2. I really like Norm Ornstein's contribution to post-nuclear analysis; he's especially good on what happens now to holds, but the whole think is excellent.

3. And Josh Marshall looks for examples of Obamacare McCarthyism.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One More Time on Subsamples (Ignore Those Polls! Addendum)

Last week I took someone to task for placing too much weight on Gallup's reports of Latino voters supposedly disproportionate turn away from Barack Obama. One week more,'s disappearing even more. In the Gallup weekly reports, Obama trickled down to 40% approval overall after three weeks at 41%, but his approval among Hispanic citizens is up for the third week in a row and now stands at 54%, 14 points higher than his overall rating. That's consistent with where he was back in September (that is, it's down, but not down more than the overall dip).

It's certainly possible that there's something going on here, but it's also possible, and perhaps a bit more likely, that the earlier dip never actually happened. It was just a bit of random variation.

I wanted to post on this not to beat up on the same thing, but because there's one additional point I didn't mention which is actually pretty important. Gallup publishes, in their weekly reports, a colossal 41 different splits. Look: flip a single coin 1000 times, and if heads comes up 600 times, something is probably going on. But what you're doing here is walking into a coin flipping factory, with some flipped 1000 times, and some 100 times, and some only 10 times, and yeah, if all you are doing are looking for oddball results then you're going to find what you're looking for. 

And so, like clockwork, we have another reporter tweeting out that "Obama's approval has dropped the sharpest among Eastern wealthy post-grads." Give it a rest, folks: just don't trust these blips in the crosstabs. There's no way of knowing whether they're real or not. 

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mark Margolis, 74.

A little good stuff:

1. Sometimes, PolitiFact does a good job

2. I'm really not a big fan of the DW-Nominate assessment of presidents, but kudos anyway to Chris Cillizza for taking the best evidence around, whatever its limitations.

3. Seth Masket on House/Senate. As I said yesterday: guilty, but with an explanation.

4. Sarah Kliff reviews the ACA points you might need for Thanksgiving arguments.

5. Speaking of stuff I don't really agree with...I need to link to this one, from Alan Jacobs and Scott Matthews, although it would tend to undercut the arguments I've been making about the long-term public opinion effect of ACA success or failure. I'm not convinced, but if you're interested in the discussion, be sure to read what they have.

6. And Julia Ioffe explains what happened to Heritage.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why We Get Majorities Wrong

Matt Glassman comments on my earlier post on majorities:
I totally understand why people are so keen to get rid of the filibuster. I cannot for the life of me understand why --- given the shining example of majority-rule just a football field south of the Senate --- they do not understand that there are both positive and negative consequences to doing so.
I think I know the answer to this one, although I'll admit it's speculative. And the answer is...political culture. Or, if you prefer, poor education.

Basically, there's incredibly widespread belief about two things in the US, one which confuses us and one which is just plain false:

1. Democracy is the best system of government (sometimes, but not always, with the Churchill qualifier; sometimes, especially these days among conservatives, with an essentially nonsense distinction between "republic" and "democracy"); and,

2.  In democracies, decisions are made by majority vote.

That the first of these is virtually uncontested winds up with everyone believing that whatever reforms they support make things more democratic. This matters because it gets in the way of clear thinking about what democracy actually is, since it becomes whatever it is we think best. It is, however, not actually true. Some of us have other things we care about; for example, we might care more about policy outcomes than the system of government that achieves them. It's OK that we're not all committed to democracy above all else; it would help us talk about this stuff if we were willing to accept that (and, in turn, accept that democracy isn't all "[t]he good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day").

The second one is just plain wrong. At best, a pure, strict, majoritarian democracy is one of the many varieties of democracy, and not one that many democratic theorists (or, for that matter, democratic polities) actually subscribe to. But there are plenty of other forms of democracy. As always, I turn to Hannah Arendt on the difference between majority decision and majority rule:
...we commonly equate and confound majority rule with majority decision.  The latter, however, is a technical device...In America, at any rate [the Constitution was] framed with the express and conscious intention to prevent, as far as humanly possible, the procedures of majority decisions from generating into the "elective despotism" of majority rule (On Revolution, 164-165, or at least it was in the old editions).
We adopt the "technical device" of majority voting often -- not always -- because it works well enough in many instances. That's just fine. But thinking that the goal is majority rule, and that the job of democratic design is to find procedures to empower one particular majority as much as possible, is totally backwards.

None of which is to say whether majority voting is appropriate in any particular situation, or to ignore that the Constitution has plenty of anti-majoritiarian mechanisms which certainly matter in the question of what Senate procedures are more or less democratic. It's just that I think basic democratic (mis)education in the US far too often equates democracy with majority rule, and leaves people believing that these questions are obvious and easy.*

The truth? Democracy doesn't always produce the substantive outcomes we want. And: democracy is more complex than just taking a vote and whoever gets the most votes, wins. That your grade school teachers (and, I'm afraid, many of your college professors) didn't explain that to you is too bad, but it is nevertheless the truth.

*OK, I spent way to much time trying to work "lie to me" into that paragraph, and I'll just settle for this footnote...basically, we watched that episode again last night, and as usual it's with me all day today. My apologies.


Ezra Klein writes last week (my emphasis):
So the question here isn't so much about the change in power now as it is in the change in power over time. That change doesn't clearly favor Democrats or Republicans. Rather, it favors majorities over minorities. And a corrective on that front has been overdue for decades. The only thing worse than a Senate where the majority has the power to govern is one where it doesn't.
I'm going to keep banging this one in, because it's terribly important. Removing the filibuster doesn't favor "majorities." It favors one particular majority. Not a policy majority. The party majority.

Remember, nominations that the majority party in the Senate opposes won't necessarily make it to the Senate floor in the first place, even if they would actually win if they came to a vote. Indeed, one can imagine a House-like Senate refusing to bring nominees up for a vote unless a majority of the majority party favors it.

"Majorities"? There's a majority right now for ENDA in the House, most observers believe. There's almost certainly a majority for a Senate-like immigration bill. I suppose it's even possible that there's a majority in the House for some very mild gun legislation. But in a body in which the majority party runs things, those other majorities aren't getting votes.

The thing is that there are multiple majorities on multiple issues at any one time in any legislative chamber. What parties do is structure things so that certain majorities are allowed to express themselves -- and others are suppressed (meaning that in those cases, the minority wins). That's fine; in fact, it's better than fine, since legislatures probably couldn't function very well without that kind of structure. But there's no reason to assume that the party majority is the only majority that matters, or that it's always inherently better (and more democratic) to allow the party to determine which majorities count.

And that's without getting into the more complex question of whether majorities should always win in a democracy. I'm strongly convinced they shouldn't (a classic example is when an indifferent majority is opposed by an intense minority). But put that aside. Again: reforms which favor party leadership simply do not favor chamber majorities in all cases, at any rate. They favor the majority party.

Strict majority party rule is, to be sure, better than strict minority party rule. Or, even worse, the incredibly bizarre situation in which a minority of the minority party intimidates the bulk of that party into doing whatever they say, and then abuses chamber rules to dictate to the majority party some policy which in fact only a slim majority support. So, yes, given the situation, Harry Reid and the Democrats had no choice but to act, and the result is in fact better than what they were faced with. To say that it necessarily empowers majorities, however, is another question altogether.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Tim Armstrong, 47.

Plenty of good stuff for a holiday week:

1. Four pieces -- Greg Koger, Barbara Sinclair, Aaron Belkin, and Richard Arenberg -- on the post-nuclear Senate.

2. Another one, from David Mayhew.

3. And another from Sarah Binder. I suppose she's right that the Senate will never quite "become the House" -- something I'm guilty of saying. However, I do think the risk (or, if you like it, the promise) of it coming close enough is sufficient that it's only a misdemeanor, not a felony, to use it as a shorthand.

4. Mark Goldberg on the Iran deal.

5. Fred Kaplan on the Iran deal.

6. Why is JFK so popular? I don't disagree with the three numbered reasons Matthew Dickinson gives us, but as I've said before I suspect the unnumbered one following those -- the active efforts by the Kennedy family and allies to produce that popularity -- is really the key (as it is with Reagan).

7. Kevin Drum makes the key point that the entire health care industry, basically, is already committed to ACA (because they had to be), which means that it ain't gonna disappear. Which matches the point that I've been making: repeal of ACA is long dead because the status quo ante no longer exists; whatever happens will be building on ACA, not starting over.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question, pushing  on my Saturday Salon column, in which I argued that the filibuster can still be saved. I say if Republicans offered a deal which would preserve some possibility of blocking judicial nominations, but gave up at least some of the filibuster on legislation, Democrats should go for it. If Republicans did suggest such a deal, should Democrats accept it?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I'm going to push on my Saturday Salon column, in which I argued that the filibuster can still be saved. I say Republicans could still get a deal which would preserve some possibility of blocking judicial nominations, but give up at least some of the filibuster on legislation. If such a deal is possible, should they go for it?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Not the only thing that mattered, but I'll go with the obvious one: the Senate going nuclear is a very big deal.

What didn't matter? I'll stick with filibusters, and agree with Adam Ramey that if the legislative filibuster goes, it's not going to matter long as there's divided government. Although even then, "less than you think" could still be a big deal, so I suppose this isn't a very good "didn't matter." Sorry; I've been so focused on the nuclear business that I hardly know what else happened this week, and all the things I can think of actually did matter.

But maybe you have more. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

I sort of think I must be overreacting to this one, but I'm just very pleased with the Tim Hudson signing. The 38 and 39 year old seasons of a fringe-HOF type pitcher who has aged pretty well? Yeah, I'll take that. Sure, he could easily go south, but the odds of 50-55 league-average starts over the two years seem reasonable high to me. There were a couple of guys out there I was worried fit the Sabean profile who I was a lot less confident in, so I'm smiling about this. Given that I'm also a Freak optimist at this point, I'm happy with Sabean. Of course, he hasn't dealt with the 1B/LF hole yet.

Hudson has really had bad luck with money over his career. I mean, for a player at his level, over the same years; obviously, if you're a HOF-level pitcher, you're going to be lucky financially if you debut in 1999 and not 1979 or 1959. Still, he's just shy of $100M total salaries going into the $25M over the next two years he'll get from the Giants. Doesn't that seem below par for a guy with his career? His #1 most-similar at baseball-reference is Kevin Brown (debut 1989), and he's running just about even with Brown's salary take through their 39 year old seasons (assuming we can count on Hudson pulling in the money on the contract he just signed). He's behind Andy Pettitte, too, and behind Mike Mussina. Age here means a lot, but Hudson hasn't benefited from it. I mean, Roy Oswalt has made $97M so far, and he's younger than Hudson and not even remotely as good. Mark Buehrle, too. And then there's Hudson's old A's teammate, but we don't want to talk about him, do we?

At far as his chances of getting to the real HOF, it seems pretty unlikely; his HOF Monitor number is a very unimpressive 59. His chances (assuming no sabermetric revolution) basically depend on a revival that get him at least to 250 wins from his current 205 (plausible!). 300 doesn't appear possible; he would probably have to stay a rotation starter until he's 45 or 46, and he sure doesn't appear to have the stuff to do that. If he does get to 250, though, and maybe tacks on some impressive postseason stuff...well, then he's going to have a lot of sabermetric support, and he'll be a bubble guy.

I think he'll be fun to root for.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Post-Nuclear Etc.

Just a few notes to add to what I said elsewhere, including here for what the GOP was up to and here for something about power and control in the Senate.

* I think the certainty among many liberals that Republicans would rapidly go nuclear as soon as they had unified control of the Senate and the White House is at best unproven. After all, they didn't do it when they had the opportunity during the George W. Bush years. If Democrats ratcheted down to Bush-level selective filibusters...maybe yes, maybe no. It may be true that the next GOP Senate would be more radical-influenced than the last ones, but then again they would still need the votes; if they only have 51 or 52, it's not very likely.

* Conservatives who think that Bush-era filibusters were on a par with Obama-era filibusters...just stop it. It's not a serious argument. Obama has faced a true 60 vote Senate, which means that virtually everything has been filibustered (yes, even those judges who were approved by voice vote with no cloture vote only got there because they had secured 60 votes, and that's a filibuster. Or at least it was). That's new. The blockades-by-filibuster are essentially new, too. It's a little more complicated...there have been blockades before, but they're usually by a Senate majority, or at the end of a president's term, or both. Nothing like this one. The escalation is more severe on the exec branch nomination side, but it's still very large on the judicial side.

* And that's without even getting into the blue-slip situation.

* Just to be clear: yes, Democrats definitely ratcheted up judicial nomination filibusters during the George W. Bush presidency. Democrats also bear responsibility for ratcheting up opposition to executive branch nominations, with the Tower nomination a major turning point. Democrats, however, were willing to cut a deal to back down from the edge.

* Some liberals are urging Obama to now appoint very liberal judges. If he does that, it will risk defeat the old-fashioned way, by building a coalition of all Republicans and a handful of moderate Democrats. So far, Obama has stuck to mainstream judges, and that's meant he's retained just about every Senate Democrat on almost every confirmation vote (I don't actually remember any defections, but I assume there have been a few over the years). That's not to say Obama shouldn't do it. Just that there are costs and benefits that are not always easy to calculate.

OK, that's all for now, but I suspect I'll have more points later.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Terry Gilliam, 73. One of those days with lots of good choices, but I'll go with the Python.

1. Greg Koger on the post-nuclear Senate.

2. Paul Krugman is right on Republicans, news cycles, and the ACA.

3. And Jennifer Lind on apologies. Interesting. What I really am looking for, however, is a good analysis of the various players on the US side in the US/Afghanistan negotiations on post-2014, and who wants what and why. My general sense of it is that Barack Obama probably should just want out, and that the (apparent) effort to stay indicates that he's getting rolled by...I don't know. But this is just wild guessing on my part, and I could just as easily imagine that Obama wants to stay, and, say, the Pentagon wants out. At any rate, I haven't seen any analysis at all, and I'd like to.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Post-Nuclear Fizzle

The Senate has gone nuclear. My first notes are up, over at Plum Line.

I'm sure I'll have more on this, but one quick note. Soon after the key vote, Harry Reid asked for, and received, unanimous consent for committees to meet. That's normally a routine request. The fact that it remains a routine request, even immediately after the Democrats acted, is a quick answer to one question: no, Republicans will not "blow up" the Senate to retaliate for majority-imposed reform. I suppose it's possible that they'll regroup and change their minds, but much more likely will be some sort of  minor "blow up" demonstration, nothing more. McConnell didn't really even make a lot of threats about it, at least not today.

OK, my prediction of a GOP surrender (well, I made odds on it, so not exactly a prediction) didn't work out so well, but this is one that it looks like I was right.

I'll also say that I don't really believe that today's action is going to matter at all in terms of bipartisan bargaining in the future. We'll see; a lot of smart observers think it will, plus I'm hearing Wolf Blitzer just now talking about "poisonous atmosphere." We'll see, but I really don't think that the "atmosphere" stuff is really going to make any difference at all.

Nuke (Maybe) Day

I'm not posting anything right now because...well, because I'm watching the Senate, and there doesn't seem to be anything more to say until we know what's going on. At least, anything worth posting about.

I'm tweeting, so head over there for blow-by-blow type stuff. I'll probably have something up later over at Greg's place, and then odds are that I'll be back here for more when things wrap up.

My guess at the beginning of the day was a 60% chance of GOP surrender (with perhaps a "deal" that's really surrender with a fig leaf; 20% chance of a deal that gives Democrats most, but not all, of what they want; 10% chance that Democrats are just bluffing, and 10% chance that Reid actually pushes the button. So far, however, there's very little chatter about, well, anything. So who knows?

Anyway, feel free to use this as an open filibuster/judges thread.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alexander Siddig, 48.

What would we do without the good stuff?

1. Sarah Binder on the nuclear showdown.

2. Ezra Klein is good on Obamacare/Katrina.

3. Ed Whelan is correct: excepting Supreme Court nominations from a nuclear-induced ban on other judicial nominations is pretty much a joke. Which is one of the reasons that Democrats didn't act up to now.

4. I agree with Matt Yglesias about the doctors' cartel. I'd like to see a good post, however, comparing doctors and lawyers.

5. And Sarah Kliff loves the first chart in her post, which I agree is a big deal. But the last chart is the Wow! one to me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


My TAP column this week argues that Republicans could have tried out some of the ideas that conservatives have been pushing if only they had decided to run their own state exchanges. I'm pretty confident that Democrats, either in 2009-2010 or later, would have been willing to cut deals to allow that sort of experimentation on a state level.

Meanwhile, I packed way too much into a short post over at PP yesterday -- including an outline of the filibuster deal I'd like to see (but has no chance of happening, even though the core of it actually makes sense for both parties). Yes, there's a Superbill! appearance.

Housekeeping: I'm traveling today; I might sneak in another post, especially if something happens with the filibuster, but probably not. And might as well get this out of the way now...posting is going to be hit or miss from now through Thanksgiving week, since there are a bunch of days next week I'll either be traveling, or trying to have some family vacation time, or filling in for Greg. I'll try to have something here every (non-holiday) weekday, but it's just hard to plan out exactly what or how much. I'm sure I'll be writing about the Senate showdown, though, one way or another. Beyond that, things should be back to normal the first week of December. 

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Ming-Na Wen, 50.

Good stuff:

1. Sean Trende is right about ACA and the future of liberalism.

2. Adam Serwer on closing Gitmo.

3. Potentially big good news: CMS is now saying that they've fixed "two-thirds of the high priority bugs responsible with issues with 834 transactions." This is about the crucial communications between the exchanges and insurance companies, and it was an even bigger problem in October than the visible problems at On the other hand? They're apparently nowhere close to being ready to pay subsidies to insurance companies. But delaying that will just be costly; the 834s could be a system-destroying disaster. Sarah Kliff is covering the daily ACA updates.

4. Scott Lemieux with the case against judicial filibusters. I (more or less) disagree, but the more practical issue here isn't really about whether filibusters are good for democracy or liberals or conservatives; it's that they're good for individual Senators, and (again, like it or not) they're going to be reluctant to surrender them.

5. And Brendan Nyhan on the ACA press frenzy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Filibuster Showdown Update

Greg Sargent is reporting that Harry Reid is going to move towards a showdown on judicial filibusters sometime in the next week, perhaps in the next couple of days.

He has a leadership aid saying Democrats have "no choice," which is pretty much what I've been saying as this thing has been developing.

Think of this as a bargaining game, with the goal of (most of the majority) Democrats to get a situation where filibusters are used, rarely, against nominees who are thought by the minority as far out of the mainstream. They don't want an outcome with no filibusters, because they want to preserve their position when they are in the minority; but they also don't want more frequent filibusters.* As Republicans push farther and farther from the Democratic ideal point, total elimination of the filibuster becomes a more and more appealing second-best end point.

Blockading three DC Appeals Court seats is, I've thought from the beginning, far beyond that line. Thus "no choice."

Remember, we still don't know exactly why the Republicans are where they are. They may want Democrats to eliminate the filibuster; in that case, that's what we'll get. On the other hand, it could merely be a breakdown in the tag-team voting they've used since the summer confrontation to get cloture on nominations, with different sets of at least five (previously six) Republicans voting yes. If that's the case, then it may just mean that the dozen or so tag teamers will get together and figure out who has to cast the three additional votes needed on these judicial nominees.

If however, Republicans mistakenly thought that they could roll the Democrats on this but don't want majority-imposed reform (which, after all, would leave them unable to stop any future nominees), then they'll need to back down, and the question becomes how far. Perhaps they could get a deal in which they only blockade one seat. More likely, they would have to give up the blockade and agree to allow final votes on at least two of the current nominees and a replacement for the other (assuming they want to take their chances with another selection).

(Tweeter Mansfield 2016 reminds us that Democrats want new additional judicial seats, and suggests that could be part of a deal. That's a deal that I think Democrats should be happy to take, but one which Senate Republican dealmakers, unfortunately, can't deliver on because it would require House Republicans to go along. It's worth remember, however, that part of the reason that the DC Circuit's caseload is comparatively low is that Congress has failed for many years now to add seats elsewhere on the federal bench).

As long as I'm here, I should mention two arguments I've made in the past that are relevant to this showdown. One is that I don't think the Democrats will push ahead with a bare majority of 50 plus Joe Biden; I think they won't do it without at least 52. I do think they'll have the votes (as Jennifer Bendery's reporting confirms) -- in fact, I suspect they'll have 54 of 55, everyone but Levin. But some of the less enthusiastic may only be along for part of the ride; indeed, it's even possible that some of them might just be bluffing, and that Harry Reid knows he can't count on them. That's possible, but I don't believe it's true at this point.

The other one is that I really don't give much weight to minority-party threats that they'll shut the Senate down after majority-imposed reform. I expect maybe a few display of outrage, but that they'll fizzle out rapidly.

At any rate, it sure looks like we'll know more very soon.

*It's actually more complicated. They may be indifferent about judicial filibusters, but want to preserve other filibusters -- and believe that majority-imposed reform on one would lead eventually to elimination of all filibusters. But that doesn't really change the situation described here.

Catch of the Day

I think this properly should go to Noam Scheiber, although he cites another piece when he says:
Here's why it doesn't matter if Warren or her fundraisers say she's not running in 16: she cant possibly know herself 
We can refine this a bit, I suppose. She certainly might know if she's running right now, even though she wouldn't know whether she'll still be running by the Iowa caucuses. And she might want to deny running, even if that's the case. She also might have some reason to be absolutely certain that she would never run, even if the thing dropped in her lap.

But for many candidates at this stage, it's more ambiguous, and the particular structure on the Democratic side in this cycle makes it even more so. Presumably there are several potential candidates who are in if Hillary Clinton drops out, but out if she remains in.

For Clinton, as many of us have noted, it makes sense to delay the overt candidacy as long as possible; not only does that leave all her options open if she's really undecided, but even if she is clearly running for now there's nothing much to be gained by becoming an overt candidate.

The thing is, for Warren or Clinton or whoever, making the move from "doing everything one would need to do to be in a position to being an active candidate in the months leading up to Iowa" to an overt candidacy may very well depend on how the first part of things goes.

Which is to say that for actual politicians going through the process, the decision isn't so much of a "if you could be president would you do it" or even a "if you could be the nominee would you do it" as much as it is "considering the chances of winning both the nomination and the general election, which are constantly shifting, is it worth continuing to move forward?" Which leaves two potentially moving variables: the point at which the politician believes it's worth making the run, and the assessment by the candidate of how close she is to that point. What I mean is that some potential candidate (say, Elizabeth Warren) might definitely be up for being president if it was handed to her and definitely wouldn't run if it was a sure loss without having definitively decided exactly what her perceived chances would have to be for her to be an active candidate in 2016. So deciding whether to run really means figuring out both the odds of winning that make it worth running, and what the current odds of winning might be -- which includes both the overall emerging political context and, as time goes on, what's happening in her own not-quite-a-campaign.

Combine all that with some legal and some practical political reasons for candidates to avoid overt candidacies until fairly late in the process -- along with a system in which contesting the nomination actually begins (at least) three years before Iowa. So we have good reason to heavily discount whatever they say about their (current? possible?) candidacies.

Therefore, in real life, we don't really have two separate piles of candidates and non-candidates; we get a whole bunch of people who are in between. Especially in the first two years of the cycle.

In other words? A very good shorthand for all of that is "she can't possibly know herself." So: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Terry Farrell, 50. She retired from acting, apparently; I hadn't know that.

Some good stuff:

1. John Sides on Liz Cheney, Republicans, and marriage.

2. Seth Masket looks to move the campaign finance debate forward.

3. And Matt Yglesias on the economy of the United Federation of Planets.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ignore Those Polls! (Small Sample Size Crosstabs Edition)

Josh Kraushaar also said:
The president isn't just losing his skeptics from the chaotic Obamacare rollout but his allies who stood to gain from the law's benefits -- namely Hispanics, whose approval of the president has dropped more than any demographic subgroup since the problems began. 
Ignore those polls! Or at least, be very careful about subsamples. Kraushaar published this one early today, before last week's Gallup numbers were ready; turns out that Obama's approval among Hispanics, per Gallup, is now at 52% -- up three points over two weeks ago, while the overall rate remained stuck at 41%.

Or whatever. These kinds of subsamples can be all over the place. As it happens, I had noticed the falloff too...and I had been planning to write this item if it turned around, which it more or less has, even before Kraushaar gave me the additional hook.

(Oh, and yes -- the press frenzy of the last two weeks is accompanied by a zero-point decline in approval; Obama is down 2 points overall since the last full week of September, which is the last week before the rollout of the exchanges and the shutdown. Two percentage points. Free fall!).

Here's the difference between Obama's overall approval rating and his rating among Hispanics, going back over time, with this week at 52% overall - 41% Hispanic = 11 points:

11, 9, 8, 15, 13, 10, 14, 10, 16, 14, 16, 15, 18, 18, 17, 20, 18, 17, 18, 18, 19, 19, 20, 15, 20

Going back further, it's around 20 to the beginning of the year, which is as much as Gallup has posted now. does appear that there has probably been a change over time. But the decline started a while ago; that last 20 point gap is at the end of July, and the gap was down to 10 points at the end of September -- before the exchanges, and before the shutdown.

If I had to guess, it would be that it's more about immigration disappearing from the news agenda; as budget and health care dominated the news, Latino voters reacted more or less the same as everyone else. But that's a guess! It's impossible to really get any closer to the truth from these numbers. Other than it's unlikely -- not impossible, but unlikely -- that it's reflecting something about the ACA rollout. The sequence just doesn't seem to suggest that.

The general point: be very, very, very, very wary about using the subsamples in these kinds of polls. It's incredibly easy to get big jumps that are really just random noise -- look, for example, at the 20-15-20 sequence right at the end there. The odds of getting all worked up over something that isn't real are, unfortunately, very high.

Obamacare Press Frenzy Stuff

Oy, Kraushaar. Oy, Galston. Oy, half the damn press corps. It's ugly out there, folks.

The two that set me off in particular today are Josh Kraushaar's massive overinterpretation of the events of last week, leading him to believe that Democrats are close to abandoning the ACA. And then Todd Purdom on the imminent collapse of "Big Government progressivism" if the ACA doesn't work well (complete with supporting quotes from William Galston). Anyway, here are some links to what I've written in response.

There's just a lot of nonsense right now. Which is pretty much what happens when these press frenzies get started, but it's very frustrating. As I wrote over at Salon over the weekend, a good comparison here is Whitewater, of all things; yes, there is a substantive story on health care reform here, but what the press are up to is mostly just fantasy.

Today, I took on Kraushaar's argument that the Upton vote was about Democrats turning against the ACA. As I said last, it really isn't.

Oh, and then there's the "doom for liberalism" argument. On Friday, I pointed out that public opinion doesn't work that way.

I'll dredge up a couple of other relevant posts from a while back. At the beginning of the month, I argued that "repeal" really is dead; the status quo ante has been disrupted far too much to ever return to it. Whatever happens in the future, it will be building on the new, ACA status quo, not repealing it and returning to the past arrangements. And I've also been saying that the spin at this point is irrelevant; what matters is whether the law works.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jamie Moyer, 51. I'm obviously not alone in this, but he was my guy: the last player older than me in the majors. Or anywhere in organized ball, as far as I know. Ah well. My cohort was obviously pretty lucky in that respect. A wonderful career.

Good stuff:

1. As one who agrees with the courts that partisan gerrymandering is kosher by the Constitution, I nevertheless agree very much with Rick Hasen about voter suppression and the Constitution. That is, courts "should hold that when a state passes a law that burdens voters, it must demonstrate, with credible evidence, that the burdens are justified by a good reason and that the laws are tailored to their intended purpose." Actually, that doesn't even seem strong enough to me, but it's a good start. Voting should be easy, full stop.

2. Peter Ubertaccio on why Barack Obama can't really do much about public opinion. I wouldn't have called it a nightmare, though.

3. John Sides has an interview with Julio Saurez about his new research on Fed ideology.

4. Since I recently discussed it, I should note that Obama picked a Surgeon General. Via Wonk Wire -- I would  have missed it if it wasn't there.

5. And Sarah Kliff talks with an insurance commissioner who rejected Obama's ACA fix.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

What's the underreported Obama Administration success? What's the underreported Obama Administration failure?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

When, if ever, do you think a significant number of (elected) Democrats will turn against the ACA? Between now and 2014? After the 2014 elections? After the 2016 elections?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Got behind on the day, so What Mattered is a bit late, but better late than never, I hope. So: the press frenzy about the ACA isn't going to matter much, and I suspect Barack Obama's ACA fix won't matter either.

What does matter? Fixing the web site.

That's what I have. What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

Haven't done one of these for a while, and I know exactly why: I've really lost interest in the postseason awards.

I'm not really sure why. I'm certainly not any less of a baseball fan than I used to be. I'm just as interested as ever in the HOF, which one would think would be similar. But the postseason awards? If one of the Giants has a shot at it, I'll root for him, and otherwise...well, I'll notice them. I might read a couple of items. That's about it.

I used to vote at the Internet Baseball Awards (I used to vote back when they were conducted over USENET, actually). I don't, any more. Don't even check to see who won most years.

So what is it? Is it associated with age? Anyone else lose interest in the postseason awards as they got older? I mean, I'm not that old. Anyone find themselves more interested now than they used to be?

My best guess is that -- and you're going to think this is silly -- a big part of it for me might have to do with how they changed the way the awards rolled out. Not that the new style is worse. Just that it's different, and that lost some of the fun of it for me. I mean, part of the reason that the postseason awards "count" is because we all believe in them, even those of us who believe in them as a thing to knock down. And one reason I think I believe in them was because they always showed up on the same schedule, slowly, after the World Series. Once they started messing with the schedule, and lately with the rest of the presentation, it just changed it for me. Yes, it's silly.

There are other possibilities. For years, I was involved in regular baseball conversation (usenet, and then I was on one or another mailing list for a long time)...I don't really have an ongoing baseball conversation to capture my attention about whatever's going on. But it's not as if those conversations aren't available to me, or that I don't remain interested in other baseball topics.

Or, who knows, plenty of possibilities. I am curious about whether it's me that's changed or the awards. Who knows: maybe I'll wind up totally into them next year. But for now, not so much.

I've Seen This One Before

Today the House is scheduled to vote for the Upton bill, at least unless conservatives decide at the last minute that it really is a fix, and therefore helping Obamacare.

Some Democrats will vote for it.

A quick hint: House Democratic votes for Upton, in a situation in which the bill won't be coming to the Senate floor, may be an indication that Republicans have successfully crafted a bill that puts pressure on Democrats to split their votes. But it's not an indication that Democrats are abandoning the ACA.

This happened just a month ago, when Republicans during the shutdown brought up a series of mini-CRs and successfully peeled off some Democrats on those, too. Some Republicans convinced themselves at the time that this was an indication that Democrats were splitting, and that Republicans were going to win the shutdown. We know how that turned out.

Whether it's a deliberate leadership strategy or not, House Democrats worried about re-election appear perfectly willing to defect on symbolic votes set up by Republicans to make political points. Nancy Pelosi and the leadership are either unable to prevent it, or -- more likely -- don't care and don't try to prevent it.

So when Yuval Levin predicts that Democrats who vote for Upton "might well never come back to the Obamacare fold," don't believe it. There's an enormous difference between playing along on a symbolic vote and abandoning a policy Democrats are stuck with, like it or not. And the truth is: most of them almost certainly do like it. What's more, as long as there's no plausible alternative that could work better for them, they really, at the end of the day, have little choice.

At any rate, whatever the chances are that they eventually bail on ACA, this vote isn't about that. Just as symbolic votes during the shutdown didn't indicated that Democrats were divided (or, for that matter, that Republicans were unified). If Republicans do make that mistake again...well, at least they'll be consistent.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jonny Lee Miller, 41.

Some good stuff:

1. I didn't know the Brits had set up a US-like National Security Council, and that other nations were getting in on it. Gideon Rachman explains. I assume, of course, that the big problem in the UK is coordinating the efforts of the Ministry of Administrative Affairs with what's going on over at Silly Walks.

2. Larry Pressler is (sort of) back! Eric Ostermeier is all over the election, and the distinction he would hold if he (improbably) wins back a Senate seat. Pressler, last seen when defeated in 1996, would be, yes, a Bateson class Senate candidate. I really want that to catch on; perhaps the low odds of it happening have something to do with how I have to look it up every time I mention it to remember the Kelsey Grammer character name. But still: Bateson class candidates. Use it.

3. More evidence that voter impersonation -- you know, the "reason" for voter ID -- just doesn't exist. Henry Farrell discusses new research.

4. Faced with John Kerry's inability to convince his former colleagues to back the administration's negotiations with Iran, Dan Drezner gives it a try. Minus the show of respect that the Secretary of State presumably used.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Well, not the president. Just the Attorney General. And not actual impeachment; just a few radicals planning to introduce articles of impeachment today.

Ah, but this is as good an opportunity as any to admit I was pretty much dead wrong about this one. I thought someone would formally introduce articles of impeachment against Barack Obama long ago. Not that they would actually go ahead an impeach him.

I will note that my prediction wasn't just "someone" -- I picked Michele Bachmann. Which, granted, wasn't really a wild stretch, but it turns out she's one of the group gunning for Holder. So I'm not entirely, totally wrong. Just missed the target. And the date, by three years. And they're not even picking a symbolic date, at least as far as I know. And she's apparently not even the lead on it. So, really, well, that's pretty bad predicting.

OK, as predictions go, this one wasn't entirely, well, scientific. Just having a little fun. But, alas (or not I suppose), wrong.

Good predictions? As of today, that goes to commenter Drew:
I'll be the contrarian and say that none of them will, barring any significant crime (which I strongly doubt will happen).
A tentative congratulations to Drew. Nice work!

And congratulations, also tentative but so far, to the GOP House leadership for somehow keeping anyone from filing impeachment against the president.

Electoral Effects of the...Oh, C'mon, People, Really?

Sometimes, I think it helps to be a solid 1500 miles away from Washington. Or maybe it helps to have read a little history. Or maybe I'm just an old guy.

Anyway: we're at a point at which even Jonathan Chait, writing against panic, says that "the current sense of dread enveloping the Democratic Party has a very real basis. President Obama’s poll numbers are plunging to unprecedented depths."

Yes, it's all massively overstated.

Plunging? His approval (and some associated numbers) have definitely dropped. I suppose "plunge" is subjective, but HuffPollster's estimate, set for "less smoothing" and therefore (over?) sensitive to recent polls, is that he's lost maybe 2.5 percentage points over the last five or so weeks. He's been losing ground all year including, mostly likely, during the shutdown. Depending on what adjustments one does, that might have accelerated after the shutdown, or maybe not. It doesn't sound like a "plunge" to me. 

Obama's popularity is probably at the low point of his presidency (again, depending on the adjustments, he's either a bit below or a bit above his previous low. But it's not any kind of unusually low low point (he's nowhere near Truman, Carter, Nixon, W.), there's no particular reason to expect the slump to continue, and myths aside no reason to believe he won't recover if the news turns better. Granted, it's hard to know what to expect from, but it's not as if it's getting worse over time. I'm not saying his numbers will go up. Just that it's more or less equally likely as further drops. 

(Actually...if I had to guess, I'd say a run of either stability or improvement is probably more likely, at least if the next budget deadlines come and go quietly. Gallup's economic confidence index has been steadily recovering from its shutdown/debt limit plunge -- yes, that one was a real plunge -- and Jamelle Bouie is right that the economy is a very big part of presidential approval, although I think he somewhat understates the ability of other events to matter).

As for electoral effects? I wrote an item dismissing direct electoral effects of the shutdown against Republicans back last month; that post pretty much works now, in reverse for effects against Democrats. I should say: it's far easier for sentiment against the president to translate into midterm electoral losses than it is for feelings against the out-party. So if Obama is unpopular in November 2014, it will hurt Democrats. But today's frenzy about the ACA is going to be mostly forgotten by then, one way or another, just as the shutdown seems forgotten today. That's probably even true, believe it or not, if the program totally collapses, although I don't think that's going to happen.

Anyway, Obama's approval ratings have in fact fallen from the mid-40s to the low-40s, and over the course of the year from around 50 to the low 40s. It's obviously not good news for him, but it seems a lot less dramatic than a lot of the chatter this week would have it be. 

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Laura San Giacomo, 51. Perhaps she doesn't want to do it, but otherwise difficult to understand why she's not starring on one of those TVLand sitcoms. Actually, how about a TVLand sitcom with her, Amy Yasbeck, Hector Elizondo, and Jason Alexander? Isn't that a totally plausible cast? And, yeah, I'd watch it if it was on. It'd be better than the last thing they did together.

Back to business: there's always good stuff:

1. Good Aaron Blake analysis of what Tea Party and other radical Republican organizations look for when endorsing.

2. Nice back and forth this week about genetics and politics research. First, Larry Bartels argues that the research is unlikely to pass the "so what?" test.

3. Hans Noel follows up on that, and plugs his new, upcoming, book (which, from what I know of his work, should be excellent).

4. Some dissent from Mike Wagner. I'm with Bartels in the skeptical camp (although I'm not even remotely expert enough to discuss this stuff for real), but read both sides.

5. Not really related, but perhaps more interesting for those of you who aren't political scientists: good looking candidates don't really have an electoral advantage.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


National Journal is running a funny-looking chart of partisan polarization in the House with this explanation:
If you're looking for a quick fact to explain congressional gridlock, it's this: In the 113th Congress, only 59 members have voted with the majority of their party less than 90 percent of the time (20 Republicans and 39 Democrats).
So first of all, a minor point: "Congress" here apparently means the House.

Second: polarization -- partisan polarization -- just means that Members vote with their party and against theother party. Gridlock is about failure to pass legislation. Indeed, really more specific; to go back to the traffic analogy, it's about failure to pass legislation that everyone wants, but is being blocked by collective action failure of some type.

Which is to say that gridlock and polarization are not the same thing, and not necessarily related in any straightforward way.

Indeed, within the House, partisan polarization should ease gridlock. Since the House runs by majority party, if that party is unified, then they can basically do whatever they want.

Thus in the historic 111th Congress, in 2009-2010, the House was extremely productive. Very strong polarization, and no gridlock at all.

The Senate, with the filibuster forcing supermajorities, is another story; there, polarization might make gridlock more likely assuming that the majority party has fewer than 60 Senators. However, with 60 Senators, and given unified government, polarization should mean less, not more, gridock.

What about with divided government? Does polarization then mean gridlock?

Not necessarily. A non-polarized Congress can avoid gridlock by having different majorities express themselves on different issues. On the other hand, a non-polarized Congress also can create a lot more gridlock. After all, a polarized Congress means that one person can bargain for her whole party; a non-polarized Congress can devolve into an ungovernable mess (indeed, one theory of why parties exist at all is that legislatures don't really work well without them).

In other words, the relationship between polarization and gridlock is complicated.

What does cause gridlock, however, is a party driven by aversion to compromise -- both internally and with the other party. That's what's happening now, with the dysfunctional GOP. And that, not polarization, is most likely the primary source of current gridlock.

What Are Republicans Thinking on Filibusters?

At this point in the current filibuster showdown, most of the focus is on what the Democrats will do, with Republicans blockading three seats on the DC Circuit Court. It seems to me that Democrats will have little choice but to threaten majority-imposed rules change and, if necessary, carry out that threat. But what are Republicans thinking? I have no idea, but there seem to be several possibilities.

1. They don't believe Democrats will really go through with majority-imposed reform.

2. They're bluffing. They intend to fold at the last minute, just as they did over executive branch nominations during the last confrontation.

3. They're not bluffing, and they don't think the Democrats are bluffing -- they want to get rid of the filibuster, and want the Democrats to be the ones who do it.

4. Collectively, they want to back down. However, the tag-team method they've been using to lose on cloture votes by relatively narrow margins have broken down; they can't find five Republicans to take the potential re-nomination hit of voting for cloture.

Or perhaps it's a mistake to suggest that "the Republicans" are thinking anything as a group. After all, these are 45 individual, autonomous politicians; there may be all sorts of mixed combinations of what's going on here. For example, it could be that 20 or so Republican Senators are in column #3 and want to get rid of the filibuster, and then another 20 or so are just afraid to vote against those first twenty...and then a few more are really just bluffing. Or are really reading the Democrats as bluffing.

As I said: I have no idea what's going on here, and therefore what the likely end game might be. Perhaps we'll learn more as we move towards the third cloture vote. I have to say: I'm not predicting anything, but I'm not as optimistic as I was last time that they're going to strike a deal.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Frances Conroy, 60.

Ah, a little good stuff:

1. Sarah Binder on counting filibusters and "blocking."

2. Great post by Stan Collender on why no one paid attention to the new budget deficit numbers -- it's a great example of agenda setting, or in this case negative agenda setting. The one thing worth adding, from the White House point of view: a rapidly decreasing deficit is "objectively" lower; whether it's an improvement is more complicated, though. Best, as Collender says, to just duck the whole issue.

3. Ta-Nehisi Coates vs. Richard Cohen is hardly a fair fight: the best blogger out there against perhaps the worst columnist?

4. Seth Masket on the center.

5. And Mike Wagner wraps up the State of the Parties conference.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why I Expect Nothing Out of Bauer-Ginsberg

Sparked by my dismissal of the president's electoral administration commission yesterday, Rick Hasen got an update about what the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission is up to. Short answer: holding hearings, doing research, planning on a January report.

Which is all fine, and I have nothing against Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg.

But I'll stick to what I said back in February: a presidential commission is the wrong way of going about this, and Bauer and Ginsberg are the wrong people to head it if the goal is to really change things.

In particular: presidential commissions are excellent for one kind of situation: when everyone agrees on what should be done, but no one wants the credit (or blame). That's why I want a presidential commission dedicated to slashing vetting for executive branch nominations; presidents don't want to admit that the costs of allowing a few bad apples through are much lower than the costs associated with the current system, nor do they want to have their own reforms blamed when the inevitable bad apples show up. On top of that, presidents aren't likely to want to admit that there's nothing wrong with having some nominees who might, looked at in just the right angle, present an appearance of a conflict of interest.

If Obama had presented a serious proposal back in February...well, it probably would have died, but perhaps it could have passed the Senate, and there's always a chance it could have been tossed in to whatever omnibus bill was going through. And I suppose it's still possible that the commission will produce something worthwhile and that Obama will push it hard.

But a much more likely outcome is that we get a lowest common denominator report from the commission, avoiding anything that either party objects to, and after the story appears on page A17 that's the end of it until the same problems show up in 2014 and 2016.

Catch of the Day

Greg Sargent (his emphasis)
Let’s face it, the spin war over initial low enrollment figures just doesn’t matter that much. Because the story here is the same as it always was: All that matters is whether the policy works in the long run.

If it does, then all of the spin of the moment — low enrollment proves the law is in total collapse! Red state Dems are fleeing the wreckage wholesale! — will be forgotten entirely, and Republicans will have to readjust to a political landscape in which the law is working for lots and lots of people. If it doesn’t — if the website doesn’t work in the new year, or if enrollment figures remain too low over time, causing the exchanges to collapse – then all bets will be off anyway.
Yes, and yes. And he's also correct that the best play for the administration is to be as open about the statistics involved as possible.

I'm mostly still sticking with what I said a while ago, which is that ultimately the web site problems won't destroy the program. They certainly could cause a lot of disruption, though; Brian Beutler points out that if it really is impossible to enroll at the same time that current plans are discontinued, then that's an enormous problem mostly separate from all the hype about "keep your plan," and it's a problem with no real obvious solution. Other than, you know, to get the damn program working.

And, yes, as Sarah Kliff says today, what's important is who signs up as much as it is how many.

But regardless: the law is here, it's being implemented, half a million people have signed up for Medicaid, young adults are on their parents' plans, the donut hole is disappearing and other Medicare benefits have begun, lifetime and yearly caps and rescissions are gone...all of that is going to be very, very, difficult to displace. So when Greg says -- and I agree -- what matters is whether ACA works or not, what it matters to is the next wave of reform and change. Repeal? No, we're never going back to the status quo ante.

Spin over first-month signups, meanwhile, won't affect any of that.

Nice catch!

Plain Blogger Smackdown

Over at Greg's place yesterday, I used the hook of Virginia's wild count in the AG election as an excuse to call for more attention to election administration. 

Reid Wilson liked it:
Good point from @jbplainblog: States really aren't that good at administering elections
And then a backlash started.

Michael McDonald:
usually don't see errors from election night reporting >> cavass. Virginia very transparent

unfair to VA election officials to use that transparency against them
HHH Election Program:
With all due respect, it's a silly argument; states are just using the canvass to make sure count is right
Brad Friedman:
Totally unfair. VA, so far, doing an EXCELLENT job of public canvass. (Voting machines a diff issue.)
I'll take the blame here. I didn't really intend to imply that the small changes in the canvass are evidence of Virginia doing anything wrong, but I'm responsible for it coming out that way.

More to the point: I'm responsible for using the messiness that's inevitable whenever anyone looks closely at an election as a hook for arguing for better election administration in general. It's a fair point that any election, no matter how well run, is going to look messy when it's basically tied after 2.2M votes.

That said: my intention wasn't to bash the people doing the work in Virginia, but an overall system of election administration that is neglected, underfunded, and overly partisan. Which it is.

And so I think the intended argument of the post was just fine. But, you know, see above.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Max Grodenchik, 61.

And some good stuff:

1. Information and the structure of the Obama White House, from Andrew Rudalevige.

2. While Ezra Klain interviews Peter Baker about Bush and Cheney.

3. Henry Farrell on the new research on "cyber Pearl Harbor." Sounds right to me.

4. Rick Hasen on what might happen in VA-AG: the legislature could step in.

5. And goodbye, Thomas. Hannah Hess lets us know that it's gone next week.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bonus Sunday Question (on Veterans Day) for Everyone

What do you think the chances are that football becomes a real political issue at some point in the next five years? Given the problems going on for both the NFL and college football, could happen at either a national or a state level (don't forget that in many states the local state college football coach has the highest state government salary of anyone). Or maybe, whether football's troubles remain or not, it never becomes a political issue. What do you think?

Elsewhere: Tea Party, Boehner Rule

It's a holiday, so no good stuff today. Just my latest columns (yeah, wise guys, very funny, you know what I mean).

My TAP column today returns to what I was talking about back in the winter and spring: the Boehner Rule. It's actually Sarah Binder's observation, first; what Boehner devised to deal with his dysfunctional party was to let the Senate go first. Then if most of his conference wants things to pass -- even if they want to publicly oppose them -- they get a vote. One effect, which we see now, is a logjam of popular items passed by the Senate and waiting for House action.

At Salon over the weekend, I talked about Tea Party candidacies, and why they aren't going to get any stronger over time. This is one where I'm not sure whether I'm making an overly obvious point that everyone knows or pointing out something new. That point being that with a normal political movement the early stages are going to generate some oddball candidates but that over time it should improve, but Tea Party political culture (and maybe even ideology) means that there won't be any evolution here.

I'll be over at Greg's place this afternoon, and I should have a PP post up sometime today. I'm also thinking of doing a bonus Sunday question here. If everything goes right, maybe even a Monday Movies Post later on. That's probably the plan for the day; enjoy the holiday, everyone.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Simple one: Who do you want to run for president? Not who are you supporting, but who do you hope runs?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

I don't remember asking this one, at least not recently. George W. Bush: looking better in retrospect? Worse?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

A few obvious ones, but I'll go with the Iran story. We don't have the outcome yet, but surely it matters either way.

"Doesn't matter" is too strong, but VA-AG is certainly a combination of elements that give something far more attention than it deserves. I think it was Dave Hopkins who made the more general point on Tuesday that we tend to pay disproportionate attention to these off-year elections, and he's of course exactly right. Add to that an exciting, close election, and there you go.

What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Catch of the Day

Gotta go with one for Jonathan Chait, who spots a Republican Member of the House claiming that "Congress should do everything in its power to tackle deficits" and then a few sentences later saying that "he rejects any talk of offsetting the cuts with new tax revenue."

Of course, this is familiar as the Republican war on budgeting, in which deficits are basically "unwarranted spending or taxes." As opposed to, you know, the difference between government revenues and government spending. I'm willing to be that isn't not just taxes; I'm willing to bet the Republican here, Doug Collins, would also be horrified by all sorts of specific budget cuts if they were proposed to him (I haven't read the original paywalled article -- I'm not a WSJ subscriber -- but for what it's worth the headline was about Republicans willing to cut defense).

Back in the real world in which federal budget deficits are in fact the difference between government revenues and spending, this means that (most) Republicans don't actually care very much about budget deficits at all. Indeed; I've yet to see, from most Republicans, much of anything they're willing to accept in order to cut the deficit that they otherwise would support. Perhaps that's changing on military spending, but I doubt it; I suspect instead that some anti-government conservatives are coming to believe that military spending can be as wasteful as domestic spending, rather than that they believe well-spent military appropriations which help the nation are worth sacrificing in order to lower the deficit.

Also: nice catch!

Does VA Gov Explain the 1992 Perot Vote?

One more time into the question about the VA-Gov polls and the election results.

I came up with a possible (and speculative) explanation based on the condition of two candidates who were not especially popular among their own parties, along with a sufficiently well-publicized third candidate. Perhaps Democrats trusted the polls, believing that the seven-point lead Terry McAuliffe held was real, and therefore believed it was safe to vote for the Libertarian; meanwhile, Republicans didn't trust the polls, believed it was close, and thus switched at the last minute back to the Republican.

It occurs to me there doesn't have to be a difference in partisan bias to get the results I speculated on. Suppose partisans on both sides read the polls with a 5 point bias in their own direction. Then, in a 7 point race with a third party candidate, the winning side party is going to perceive a 12 point landslide and vote their true preference, while the losing side party will perceive a 2 point barnburner and reluctantly return home. After all, a heavily-polled election with a 7 point spread will surely have some 12 point and some 2 point polls, and in fact this one did.

It further occurs to me that if true, this should be a pattern we see in other elections. The main conditions, I would think, would have to be a polling lead in the 5-10 point range...that's small enough that the losing side can plausibly believe that it's very close, but large enough for the winning side to feel safe -- again, if both sides interpret the polling with about the same bias.

All of which gets to that 1992 Perot vote. The research on that was pretty clear: Perot took equally away from both candidates. However, if this (speculated! hypothesized!) effect was operating, then it would have cost Perot Republican votes while leaving Democrats parked with him at the end. If that was the case, then the "real" Perot vote (that is, those who would have voted for him all else equal) would have been more Republican the observed Perot vote.

Note, of course, that it still wouldn't be the case that Perot cost Republicans the 1992 election; no third party candidate, and all those votes come back home, half to Clinton and half to Bush.

At any rate: I suspect this should be testable. The basic idea should be that an effect kicks in when there's a 5-10 point lead and a plausible third party candidate...say, one getting better than 5% of pre-election polls. Under those circumstances, the final result should be more favorable to the losing candidate than the polls predicted. It's also possible, if detailed polls are out there, to compare the third party supporters before election day and in the final vote.

It should also be an effect, if real, that may stronger when the party-aligned press has a larger share of the overall press, since presumably that would produce stronger cues for interpreting the polls with a bias.

Not sure if anyone wants to bother doing the work on this (I don't), but I think there's a fairly good chance that it's real -- both for VA-Gov and for Perot.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alfre Woodard, 61.

Good stuff:

1. Ezra Klein reviews Double Down and The Gamble.

2. Sean Trende breaks out a new explanation for the polling vs. results difference in VA-Gov.

3. While Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy consider both that and other possibilities. I'm sticking with different switch-away from the Libertarian as my best guess, but I'll admit it's more speculative than solid.

4. And: State of the Parties! The papers are here. This is the quadrennial conference on US political parties in Akron that's always excellent. I'll continue retweeting stuff from there tomorrow; if I'm lucky, I'll get to some of the papers, too.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Likable Enough

I did a post over at PP a couple of days ago about Christie and personality, pointing out that personality -- whether people actually liked the candidate -- can matter quite a bit in nomination contests, but is mostly unimportant in general elections.

It's worth elaborating on that just a bit, because it turns out the way that personality works is actually a bit complicated.

I can think of at least three ways that personality matters in nomination contests. In each case, I'm using "like" here to refer to personality, not issues or governing abilities or any of the other reasons someone might like a candidate.

1. It probably matters to some extent whether party actors like candidates personally. It's surely not as important as agreeing on issues, at least not issues of importance to any particular party actor, but it's probably not irrelevant, either. Or, to put it bluntly, it probably matters whether party actors like the candidates.

A couple of things about this...the universe of "party actors" is pretty large. Even just politicians...there are an enormous number of politicians in the US. But of course there are a lot more activists, and there are plenty of campaign and governing professionals, and leaders of party-aligned interest groups, and formal party officials and staff. It all adds up to a lot of people. The nature of it is, however, that each of them knows a lot of others within the "expanded party" network, and while it's large, it's still nothing like the millions in the overall electorate. My guess is that candidates' personal reputations are well-established, at least by the end of the invisible primary, among party actors, with much of that second- and third-hand in addition to whatever is being reported in the mass media.

2. It probably matters what party actors think about whether voters, both primary and general election voters, will like candidates. This is almost completely separate from the whether they themselves like the candidates. It's also pretty much separate from whether voters will actually like the candidates or not. And all the qualifiers about the universe of party actors apply; reputation matters.

3. It probably matters what voters think of the candidates as people. We can go way overboard on this: voter impressions of candidates are very much filtered through elite opinion leaders and, generally, how the candidates are presented in the mass media. And in many cases, it doesn't matter because many candidacies don't survive to the point at which voters get engaged. Still, there's no reason to believe that the primaries and caucuses do absolutely nothing except to ratify the decisions of party actors, at least not in every case.

I suppose there might be more 2nd- and 3rd-order possibilities as well; for example, primary voters who support a candidate based on their perceptions of how likable that candidate will be for swing voters in November. But I think those three capture the bulk of it. The key, again, is that these are all actually separate things, all more or less independent of each other.

Please, Please, Please Giuliani Is Not a Christie Comp

Can we please get this stopped already? Chris Christie's presidential campaign is not at all similar to Rudy Giuliani's disastrous 2008 bid. Not similar. Not comparable. Okay? Just cut it out.

I'm seeing this all over the place, and it's just terrible.

Viable presidential candidates share two characteristics. They have conventional credentials, and they are within the mainstream of their parties in their positions on matters of public policy.

Granted, sometimes it's a bit tricky to judge. Did House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt have "conventional credentials" in 2004? No one from the House has been nominated in the modern era, but Gephardt himself in 1988 and Mo Udall in 1976 came fairly close. What about (General) Wesley Clark in 2004? But basically, we can look at the winners and all the candidates who came close from 1972 on and see if there's anyone similar. The more the comps, and the closer the comps, the better.

On mainstream views, it's hard to judge in any objective way what counts as sufficiently unorthodox to make a candidacy simply not viable. Almost every candidate has at least one issue position which is not embraced by significant groups within the part. And of course what the "party" thinks is, in part, exactly what's happening in the nomination process. Still, it's not impossible for outsiders to conclude that, say, Ron Paul was out of the GOP mainstream during his candidacies, or that Joe Lieberman's Iraq position was both far from the Democratic mainstream and extremely salient during his failed candidacy.

All of which gets back to Christie/Giuliani.

Giuliani failed both tests. One might argue for his credentials...I wouldn't. At least a couple of mayors have run for president before in the modern era, but none came close to winning. Generally, all the winners and almost all of the runners-up have had at least four years of experience at statewide elected office.

Christie, of course, is almost the classic case: elected governor, served a term, re-elected in a landslide.

As far as mainstream of the party: Giuliani easily failed that one. It's not really necessary to go past abortion, although in 2008 Giuliani was also on the wrong side (for Republicans, that is) on gay and lesbian rights when that issue was far more central to the GOP than it probably will be in 2016. There were more, including some where he had made not particularly convincing campaign conversions, but overall it just wasn't a close call.

Christie will have some problems on some issues with some GOP groups. It may be enough to derail his candidacy. But he's far more similar to Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 than to Giuliani (or, say, Huntsman in 2012). He has problems, sure, but so do the other candidates. In other words, he may lose, but he's surely viable.

The various fiascoes of the Giuliani campaign were either irrelevant to the basic situation, or (as in his slow retreat from "contesting" states) a consequence of that basic situation -- that is, his claim that he was not contesting state after state was actually pretty much spin to cover the fact of losing in state after state. Therefore, they really don't apply to Chris Christie's situation at all.

Is Christie the frontrunner right now? I don't know. Is he a viable candidate? Sure. Does thinking about what happened to Giuliani help clarify Christie's situation? No. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Just cut it out, everyone.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Guy Sularz, 58

Want some good stuff?

1. Ed Kilgore makes the point I also made yesterday, but in more depth: yes, the "establishment" candidate won in AL-1, but the Tea Partier did well enough to keep the focus on primaries.

2. Kristen Soltis looks at the numbers carefully and it turns out my quick glance is probably correct: it was the Libertarian candidacy which accounts for the polling in VA-Gov.

3. Harry Enten looks at the exit polls. I agree with his main points for the most part, but one word of caution: be very careful about putting too much weight on exit poll numbers, especially for relatively small subsamples. It's really easy for them to be almost useless.

4. Seth Masket on two ballot measures in Colorado: one with a clear partisan pattern, one without.

5. And Elizabeth Warren and the social sciences, from Henry Farrell.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

PostElection: The Polling Place Bake Sale Zone

[Updated after comments here and elsewhere]

Yes, I'm still fascinated by this. And thanks to commenters here and on twitter, I have some preliminary results. Obviously not something that would hold up to rigorous scrutiny, but enough that I figured I should make a record of it before moving on.

It appears that there is a polling place bake sale zone and a zone in which there are no bake sales, with the former including the northeast, the middle west, and spreading south as some of the border states. And then there's a zone without bake sales on election day which is made up of the deep south including Texas, the southwest and mountain west, and the west coast.

Okay, specifics. We have reports of bake sales in the following states: MA, CT, ME, NH, VT, NYC, NJ, PA, OH, MI, MN, WI, MD, VA, TN. [UPDATE: add an upstate NY, a Chicago, a New Orleans, and one in Houston!]

And we have specific reports of the absence of bake sales in TX, MS, CA, CO, MT and IL. [UPDATE: and Nebraska]  Also IN, but it wasn't a school. I'm strongly inclined to assume that both Indiana and Illinois have them, but don't have a report yet; I'm also strongly inclined to believe that Arizona doesn't, since I have no memory of knowing about it. Multiple reports from New York City, but only one negative report from upstate...I'll be surprised if they are limited to the city, but I can't confirm anything more.

Not included here are absences in states which do have them, since no one thinks that all polling places anywhere have bake sales. I'm also not counting refreshments served at polling places to those hanging out there all day. Just bake sales.

Although it turns out that not all bake sales were in schools. It seems to be the most popular location, but then again there are lots of polling places in schools, so it's hard to know what to make of that.

If anyone else has reports to add, I'll probably just update this post, so keep them coming!

PostElection: Winners

Even putting aside the bizarre idea that Republicans "won" Virginia because they didn't lose by as much as the polls was about as mixed an election day as possible, wasn't it?

* Democrats win! After all the two biggest pickups on the day were VA-Gov and NYC Mayor, both to the Democrats.

* Republicans win! Context matters. Yes, Republicans lost VA-Gov, but winning a landslide in New Jersey Governor is a big deal in a solidly Democratic state, more so than losing by a bit in a swing state.

* Mainstream conservatives win! Chris Christie massively outperforms GOP par in NJ-Gov, while Tea Party friendly Ken Cuccinelli slightly underperforms GOP par in VA-Gov. Meanwhile, the mainstream conservative beats the Tea Party candidate in AL-1.

* Tea Party wins! Yes, the conservative won in AL-1. But not by much, and with almost everything on his side except for the Tea Party/"establishment" split. If the big goal of Tea Party primary challenges is keeping Republicans in Congress terrified: mission accomplished.

* Liberals win! New York City is a big deal, and it now has a very liberal mayor. That's one new liberal who, today, has a major national platform.

The thing is: all of these are correct. Add into the mix mostly status-quo results in the NJ and VA legislature, and "muddle" looks like a reasonable assessment.

Standard warning: do not assume that yesterday's results even hint at anything about the 2014 general elections, let alone 2016. Ignore anything that even hints at it. These elections are important because of and to the extent to which New Jersey and Virginia state elections and the other elections contested yesterday are important. The main exception, I think, is the AL-1 GOP runoff, which certainly may have an effect on other elections.

Oh, and the other thing? At the end of the day, what matters in almost all of these cases is who won, not how it's interpreted. So if the press buys into some of these stories and not others, it's just not a big deal. Spin can matter, but usually reality matters a lot more.

PostElection: Virginia Governor

I'm a bit late to this, and despite that I haven't come close to reading everything that people have written so I'm not sure whether people have covered this or not, but that disclaimer aside:

The interpretation of the Virginia governor's race, with Terry McAuliffe defeating Ken Cuccinelli by (based on results so far) 2.5 percentage points, appears to be dominated by questions about why it's so close -- rather than questions about why McAuliffe won.

That's because of two things. One is because polls had McAuliffe with a bigger lead; it was estimated at 7.2% by HuffPollster, which is pretty much the gold standard for these things. So there's certainly something to be explained about the difference between the polling and the actual results.

The other is the order in which the votes were counted. Republican precincts reported early -- which is the normal pattern in Virginia, as veteran election-watchers were saying all last night -- and so Cuccinelli actually was leading until very late in the counting. It's impossible to prove exactly how this played out, but I'm fairly confident that if the votes had been counted in the opposite way, with McAuliffe getting out to a big lead, settling down for most of the night into the 5-7% range, and then Cuccinelli catching up quite a bit after the networks had called the race and the candidates had given their speeches, that the election would have been perceived as a much more solid win.

Getting back to the first step here: the legitimate question here about the difference between the polls and the results is not the same question as the question of who did well and why. Which is why I agree with Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein that it's a bit bizarre to call the election a win for ACA foes.

As far as the polling shift, here's my two cents that I'd begin with. Compared with the HuffPollster estimate, the actual results (so far -- remember that they sometimes shift for several days after an election) are the following changes:

McAuliffe  + 2.7%
Cuccinelli  + 7.4%
Sarvis         - 2.5%

If I'm reading the exit polls correctly, most voters who supported the Libertarian Party candidate would have supported McAuliffe in a two-candidate race. I haven't looked into the details of the pre-election polls, but at least one strong possibility is that conservative libertarians (or perhaps conservatives who just didn't like the Republican candidate) came home, while liberals did not. That certainly could have something to do with the themes candidates campaigned on in the final days, but I'd suggest that Ron Paul's high-profile appearance for Cuccinelli is a more likely suspect. And then I'd also guess, and this is a bit more speculative, that Democrats were more likely to trust the polling (and therefore assume that it was safe to vote against a candidate they preferred to win) than Republicans (who, believing it was a close race, came home even if they weren't thrilled about it).

One more thing. While I was checking that one in the exit polls, I noticed something that I did not expect at all: outgoing Republican governor Bob McDonnell had a pretty solid 52% approval rating among exit polled voters. If our interest is in who won and why -- and not in the real but less interesting question about the polling -- then that suggests that Virginia was in fact probably ready to elect a Republican, and that the net effect of the candidates and campaigns probably favored McAuliffe, not Cuccinelli. Which is certainly long way from nailing down the effect of any specific issue, of course, but does suggest that a focus on "why was it so close" really is a backwards way of trying to understand this election.
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