In the last few days, a number of polls (see here and here have shown a dip in support for President Obama, and the reasons are not entirely clear. Is it the rise in gas prices? Maybe. But what about the positive signs on the economy? All well and good, but perhaps the administration is undermining itself by making too much of them. But there are still almost eight months until election day, so we'd all be well advised not to make too much of any one poll or any momentary fluctuation.
Because that's what these kind of tracking polls do. They fluctuate. Between now and election day, I promise you there will be polls that show Obama comfortably leading, polls that show Romney leading, and polls that show a tie. That was what happened four years ago, and what happens in nearly every election. Take a look at this chart of the 2008 election, from pollster.com. The trend lines show averages of all the polls?with Obama leading until March, then McCain leading for a couple of months, then Obama leading until September, then McCain leading briefly again, then Obama leading until the end. But you'll also notice the points, each of which represents an individual poll. They show a huge variation. At the beginning of March, a Washington Post/ABC News poll had Obama leading by 11 points. A few weeks later a Rasmussen poll had McCain leading by 10 points. Which was right? Neither, both, some combination of the two, and it depends on how you look at it.
In the end, Obama beat McCain by seven points, making all the hand-wringing along the way from Democrats seem kind of silly. Looking at these latest polls, I'm sure that conservatives are given great hope. Liberals, I know, are doing one of two things?dismissing the results as a momentary and inconsequential blip, or beginning to get very nervous. It's possible that my own inclination toward the former is just a product of my ideological bias and the desire it produces to convince myself that the facts actually are what I would like them to be. So I hereby make a promise to you, gentle reader.
Over the course of this campaign, there will be many, many more polls. Some of them will be interesting enough to comment on. But I pledge to you now that I will try not to make too much of any one poll, or even a couple of polls. I will remember that there are always outliers?by the accepted standards of statistical accuracy, if you ask a question a hundred times, five of the answers you get will be completely wrong. I will endeavor to maintain this long view even when a poll tells me what I want to hear. It won't be easy, and I can't promise that I won't ever slip up. But I'll do my best.
Crusader vs. the PiratesCrusader Rabbit Crusade 2 Episode 08Open Thread [...]
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Which one of these does Mitt Romney resemble?
It's axiomatic in politics that winning makes you look like a winner. No matter how hard-fought a primary race might be, once you've vanquished your opponents and emerged victorious, you acquire a glow that makes your weaknesses look less important than the strengths that allowed you to triumph. But has there been a candidate who emerged from a tough primary season looking weaker than Mitt Romney does now? Having struggled mightily to overcome a collection of repellent politicians and outright cranks, he stumbles toward the Republican nomination with his character flaws cast in sharp relief. And things may only get worse for him. A look back at history tells us that defeating a sitting president is an unusually hard thing to do, and only the most talented politicians are capable of it.
These primaries have revealed many things. You can be governor of a big state like Texas and still be a nitwit. Running a chain of pizza restaurants does not adequately prepare one to run for president. Most everyone still hates Newt Gingrich. More significantly, it has shown that appealing to the Republican base's ugliest impulses is not a way to win the affection of a majority of Americans.It has also revealed, perhaps most importantly, that whatever his talents and accomplishments, Mitt Romney is not particularly good at running for president. He is awkward and difficult to know, he makes one gaffe after another reinforcing the two most damaging parts of his political persona (being an out-of-touch rich guy and being a flip-flopper), and though he prepares relentlessly, he is prone to stumbles when he has to think on his feet. You may remember that Barack Obama, on the other hand, is very, very good at running for president. Americans find him quite appealing (his personal approval has always exceeded his job approval). He is capable of stirring oratory, but can also sit down and shoot the breeze about sports (try to imagine Romney giving an interview like this one Obama gave to Bill Simmons of Grantland). He has demonstrated that he can chart out a winning strategy and stick with it, and he has an extraordinary ability to turn potentially damaging setbacks to his advantage. Unfortunately for Romney, presidents who are good politicians usually get re-elected. When you take a quick tour through our electoral history, the pattern is striking. Over the last 100 years, there have been 16 elections in which a sitting president ran for re-election. Twelve times the incumbent won, and only four times did he lose. Those four losing presidents were Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. So what can we say about these presidents, and is there any evidence that Barack Obama belongs in their company? Three of them (Hoover, Carter, and Bush) came up for re-election in terrible economic times?Hoover in the Great Depression, Carter at a time of runaway inflation and interest rates, and Bush at the tail end of a recession. Ford struggled to overcome the legacy of pardoning the most corrupt president in memory. And though Carter ran a good race in 1976, none of the four could be called natural politicians, brimming with the talent necessary to charm the country. So it appears that if you're going to unseat a sitting president, you'd better have national conditions favor you and have an opponent who is not very good at the whole being-a-candidate thing?or at least worse at it than you are. And the kind of slash-and-burn campaign that crushes someone with whom voters aren't that familiar?what George H.W. Bush did to Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton did to Bob Dole, or George W. Bush did to John Kerry?just won't work on an incumbent president. The voters have already pretty much decided who the president is and what they think of him, so dramatically changing those opinions is next to impossible. It's no accident that the candidates who unseat sitting presidents, like Clinton or Reagan, were compelling personalities and deft campaigners who captured the public's imagination. And even the most partisan Republican wouldn't claim that Mitt Romney is a more interesting personality or a better campaigner than Barack Obama. As you look over the last century of elections, it's hard to find a single case where the clearly more naturally talented politician got beaten by the less talented politician. You might point to 1968, when Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey, but that's a close call?Humphrey was no Reagan or Clinton. And yes, the painfully awkward Dwight Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson twice, but Stevenson was not exactly possessed of the common touch. When a truly talented president faced a far less talented challenger?Clinton against Dole, Reagan against Mondale, Johnson against Goldwater?the result was always a rout. Ask a political scientist, and she'll tell you that the ability to give a rousing speech, make wise strategic decisions, and perform well on the trail and in debates only matters at the margins. The big driver of votes is the economy, followed by whether the country is at war. But it looks like 2012 is going to be an election in which the margins matter a great deal. The economy is likely to be no longer terrible, but not yet great. We're out of Iraq, and are slowly trying to extract ourselves from Afghanistan (far too slowly for most Americans, but still). So every day for six months or so, Americans are going to watch and listen to Barack Obama, a guy about whom they have complex feelings but whom they basically like, and Mitt Romney, a guy who isn't even capable of winning the affection of his own party. My favorite moment of the 2008 campaign came in July, when candidate Obama went to visit American troops in Kuwait. They gathered in a gym, he spoke for a while, and then someone gave him a basketball. Obama bounced the ball a few times, then on his first and only shot, drained a three-pointer to the cheers of the crowd. I pictured the staff watching in McCain headquarters, throwing up their hands and saying, "C'mon! That's just not fair!" Everything the guy touched seemed to turn to campaign gold. I suppose it's possible that Mitt Romney could develop into a skillful campaigner with a sweet outside jumper. But nothing that has happened so far gives even the slightest indication that such a transformation is in the offing. Is Romney more like the Ronald Reagan of 1980, or more like the Bob Dole of 1996? The answer seems obvious.
Polling on the president has been a little weird lately. According to yesterday?s The Washington Post/CBS News poll, 46 percent of Americans approve of President Obama?s performance, while 50 percent disapprove. This is on the lower bound of polling for the president, but well within the range we?ve seen over the last several months. Likewise, over the weekend, Gallup found that Obama?s approval rating rose to 49 percent?mostly on the strength of last week?s job report, which saw the economy grow by 227,000 jobs.
The New York Times and CBS News registered the most dramatic change in Obama?s standing with the public. In its poll, released yesterday, Obama?s approval rating dipped to 41 percent, the lowest since last summer, when the debt ceiling debacle damaged his standing with Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
Jonathan Bernstein says that this is all statistical noise, while Jonathan Chait insists that there is something here; namely, that President Obama?s message??America is coming back??is horribly unpopular with the public at large. Looking at all three of the polls, and the New York Times' in particular, I?m inclined to go in Bernstein?s direction with sampling as the culprit.
Between yesterday?s poll and the one in February?where Obama?s approval rating was 50 percent?the New York Times and CBS News increased the proportion of Republican voters by more than 2 percent, and sampled nearly 18 percent more GOP primary voters than they did Democratic primary voters.
There are signs of this throughout the survey. In the February poll, Republicans and Democrats were equally enthusiastic about voting in November, with 38 percent who said that they were more enthusiastic than usual. By contrast, the ?more enthusiastic? numbers went up to 40 percent for Republicans went up to 40, while they declined to 29 percent for Democrats.
It?s possible that his represents a genuine change in enthusiasm between the two groups, but given the extent to which Democrats were hugely energized by the battles over contraception in the last month?which would suggest parity of enthusiasm, if not a slight Democratic advantage?I?m more willing to say that this variation is the result of sampling, and Republican partisans were sampled at a greater rate than their liberal counterparts. Otherwise, you?d have to say that Democrats were more enthusiastic at the beginning of February than at the beginning of March, and that doesn?t seem right. Likewise, the Washington Post poll, the percentage of respondents who identified as Republican grew from 23 percent in February to 27 percent in March, while the percentage of those identifying as Democrats declined from 34 percent to 31 percent.
None of this is to say that the president is in safe waters; as I argued yesterday, the electorate is closely divided, and at this point, Obama is just as likely to lose as he is to win. What?s more, I don?t know why the New York Times and the Washington Post increased their sample of Republicans; it?s possible that this is actually a more accurate account of where the population stands. For my part, I think things are probably unchanged from where they were last week. Regardless, before using polls to make a broad pronouncement about where the public is moving, it?s useful to check out the polls themselves.
President Obama vowed to keep to his exit strategy in Afghanistan, despite the recent tragedies, including the massacre of 16 civilians in Kandahar by what the military says was a lone gunman. Like Nixon on VietNam, he believes the US can have an[...]
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Jon Stewart to Mitt Romney: "You're a guy who looks like you just stepped off of the Monopoly board. You really think you're gonna appeal to Southerners by finding reference with them on the issues that matter most to them: their accent and choosing the[...]
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Important chart on the difference in government spending between the recovery in Reagan's first term and Obama's halting recovery now. [...]
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So the process has started. Here's the Professor (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):
So Greece has officially defaulted on its debt to private lenders. It was an ?orderly? default, negotiated rather than simply announced, which I guess is a good thing. Still, the story is far from over. Even with this debt relief, Greece ? like other European nations forced to impose austerity in a depressed economy ? seems doomed to many more years of suffering.We've gone down that road before, the one about how Greece was bad bad bad and deserves what it gets ? just like all the other struggling economies. Krugman covers that point again, then goes on to the consequences.
And that?s a tale that needs telling. For the past two years, the Greek story has, as one recent paper on economic policy put it, been ?interpreted as a parable of the risks of fiscal profligacy.?
[A]usterity in a slump doesn?t just inflict vast suffering. There is growing evidence that it is self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms, as the combination of falling revenues due to a depressed economy and worsened long-term prospects actually reduces market confidence and makes the future debt burden harder to handle.Krugman has answers to the headline question. First, about Greece:
You have to wonder how countries that are systematically denying a future to their young people ? youth unemployment in Ireland, which used to be lower than in the United States, is now almost 30 percent, while it?s near 50 percent in Greece ? are supposed to achieve enough growth to service their debt.
[Greece and Ireland] had and have no good alternatives short of leaving the euro, an extreme step that, realistically, their leaders cannot take until all other options have failed ? a state of affairs that, if you ask me, Greece is rapidly approaching.Then, about America:
[I]f you want to know who is really trying to turn America into Greece ... it?s the people demanding that we emulate Greek-style austerity even though we don?t face Greek-style borrowing constraints, and thereby plunge ourselves into a Greek-style depression.In other words, Greece is still on target for leaving the euro, which will occur just as soon as the crisis is so bad that a euro-exit can't make it worse.
By Jessica Goad and Scott Keyes.
Rep. Cliff Steans (R-FL), a birther, one of the leaders of the Solyndra witch hunt and defender of subsidies to Big Oil companies, told constituents at a town hall meeting Belleview, Florida, on February 25 that ?we don?t need any more national parks in this country? and that we need to ?actually sell off some of our national parks”:
I got attacked in a previous town meeting for not supporting another national park in this country, a 200-mile trailway. And I told the man that we don?t need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks, and try and do what a normal family would do is — they wouldn?t ask Uncle Joe for a loan, they would sell their Cadillac, or they would take their kids out of private schools and put them into public schools to save to money instead of asking for their credit card to increase their debt ceiling.
Our national parks represent America’s heritage, held in trust from one generation to the next.
Despite Stearns’ idea for a national-park fire sale, the facts show that parks, monuments, and other protected places generate a steady stream of wealth for both the treasury and local businesses. In 2010, Florida?s Everglades National Park generated 2,364 jobs and over $140 million in visitor spending, and Florida?s 11 national parks in total provided $582 million in economic benefits. The National Park Service also reports that America?s parks overall created $31 billion and 258,000 jobs in 2010. In addition to their economic impacts, national parks have important value in that they are available to all of us for recreation, not just the wealthy few.
This is not the first time Republican members of Congress have advocated selling off Americans? public lands without clarifying how taxpayers would get a fair return for them. Last fall, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of the public lands that belong to all of us. And former Rep. Richard Pombo proposed selling national parks to mining companies in 2005.
Republican presidential candidates have also recently been confused about the tangible and intangible values of our national parks and public lands. Mitt Romney told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he doesn?t know ?what the purpose is? of public lands, Rick Santorum told Idahoans that public lands should go ?back to the hands? of the private sector, and Ron Paul advocated for public lands to be turned over to the states.