Friday, December 17, 2010

Compromise in the Era of the True Believers

The recent handwringing on the Left and on the Right over the tax deal struck between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans has provided a nice opportunity for Americans to see that there is in fact little difference between the far Left and the far Right in America - to be sure, they differ with regard to their stance on issues - but when it comes to the their arrogant, self-righteous, intransigence they are cut from the same cloth.

Political scientist E. E. Schattschneider once wrote,
Democracy is based on a profound insight into human nature, the realization that all men are sinful, all are imperfect, all are prejudiced, and none knows that whole truth…. Even when we disagree with other people we like to think that they speak from good motives and while we realize that all men are limited, we do not let ourselves imagine that any man is bad. Democracy is a political system for people who are not sure that they are right.
In other words, the very foundation of the democratic social contract is the understanding that no one philosophy or ideology is to be privileged above others. In contemporary American politics this is simply no longer the case. As political elites, be they Liberal or Conservative, have grown ever more polarized they have lost sight of the reality that "none knows that whole truth" and that at its heart "Democracy is a political system for people who are not sure that they are right."

Instead we live in an age when the Left and the Right have drifted so far apart that neither is able to see any good in the opposition. Last year, William Galston presciently warned,
"polarized partisanship creates a climate in which each party is likely to deny any truth or virtue to the other. But because no party has a monopoly on truth or virtue, this mindset all but rules out legislation that draws from the best ideas of both... partisan polarization tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Democrats feel sure that Republicans will only obstruct their legislative agenda, why allow them to participate in drafting it?"
In the midst of an ever more partisan and bitter era in American politics, and following a devastating electoral defeat for Democrats, President Obama and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell achieved the impossible - compromise. As the clock ticked down on tax rates enacted under George W. Bush and a Republican Congress many Democrats, still stinging from the midterm elections, demanded that only the tax rates for those earning less than $250,000 per year be extended. Republicans sought to maintain all tax rates at current levels. During his presidential campaign, Obama had promised to allow the upper income tax rates to expire. During the same time that Congress and the White House was discussing the issue of the tax rates, Congress was also considering an extension of federal unemployment benefits - but Republicans in the Senate were blocking the effort.

The deal struck between McConnell and the White House allowed for a temporary two-year extension of the Bush era tax rates, a temporary 2 percentage point reduction in the payroll tax, and a 13 month extension of unemployment benefits. The legislation passed the Senate by an impressive 81-19 margin and after considerable moaning by Democrats it passed the House with a bipartisan majority of 277-148.

Yet this tremendous victory has caused many on the Left to view President Obama as a traitor who betrayed his base. Some have even called for a primary challenge to Obama in 2012. It's enough to give a casual political observer whiplash. During the height of the health care debate the American Left defended Obama against attacks from the Right. Obama critics were derided as racists, radicals, birthers - all seeking to bring down the President. Now Obama has to deal with flak from his Left - his great treasonous crime? Compromise.

In his book "The True Believer" Eric Hoffer wrote
"It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and constancy. The fanatic cannot, can not be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause.  Though they seem to be at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end. It is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet. The fanatics of various hues eye each other with suspicion and are ready to fly at each other's throat. But they are neighbors and almost of one family. They hate each other with the hatred of brothers."
Those "true believers" on the Left who now decry President Obama as a traitor to the faith are little more than the dizygotic siblings of those on the Right who angrily dismiss the President as a socialist out to destroy America or who believe McConnell sold out. Left or Right, they are fanatics. Democrats lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives in the November midterm, they lost 6 Senate seats, and over 700 state legislative seats in the worst electoral rout in 70 years. Somehow, many Democrats have convinced themselves that the correct response is to entrench, to defend ever more vigorously progressive policies - seemingly oblivious to the fact that the 2010 losses were driven by the massive defection of Independent voters who felt that Democrats were already pursuing an agenda that was too far left. Meanwhile, conservatives and Tea Party folks in Congress have mistaken the voters repudiation if Obama and the Democrats. The greatest threat to the GOP in 2012 isn't Obama it's the possibility of Tea Party intransigence.

President Obama got the message of the 2010 midterms, the tax deal is evidence of that and probably the first significant mile marker in his road to reelection. Mitch McConnell got the message as well and provided a significant boost to Congressional Republicans. Congressional Democrats seem clueless.

What has been too often lost in the discussion of the tax compromise are the effects that it is having on other legislation. Now that the tax deal is out of the way it is very likely that the Senate will join the House and vote to repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the Senate is likely to ratify the START treaty - it's event possible that the Dream Act will pass the Senate - none of this would have been possible without the compromise on taxes.

The far Left thinks that President Obama sacrificed too much, the far Right suspects the same of Senate Republicans. All I can say is, if the fanatics are angry, it must have been a damn good compromise. It's not the bill I would have preferred, but I welcome the precedent that it may set for future relations between the White House and Congressional Republicans.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Wasn't a Messaging Problem

I spoke to a group of St. Mary's College alums tonight about the 2010 midterms. I said the same things that I've been saying for two weeks - I called it the Myths of 2010 talk: 

Myth One - Democrats didn't turn-out. This is not true. Compared to the last midterm election in 2006 Democratic turnout was essentially the same, as was Republican turnout. Democrats lost because Independents shifted their support to Republicans by nearly 36 points compared to 2006. Too many folks are comparing 2010 turnout to that of the 2008 Presidential election - but this is a poor comparison. Turnout in midterm elections never rivals Presidential turnout. The 2006 to 2010 comparison is more appropriate.

Myth Two - Democrats were overwhelmed by outside spending. The Citizen's United ruling allows corporations to engage in political spending and this certainly provided cash to Republicans, but the simple truth is all that outside spending merely brought Republicans to spending parity with Democrats. Certainly Republicans had more money than in past midterms, but Democrats were not "overwhelmed."

Myth Three - It was the return of the "Angry White Male." Republicans made gains among most demographic groups, but their victory was actually fueled by an historic victory among women.  For the first time since exit polling of midterms began in the early 1980s Republicans won a majority of women's votes, they also improved their standing among Hispanics, older voters, and gay and lesbian voters.
Myth Four - The losses were normal for a midterm. Most models for midterm elections projected Democratic losses of 30 to 50 seats with the typical range in the high 30s. As Nate Silver at recently noted, the loss of 60+ seats exceeded the normal and it appears that support for health reform, cap and trade, and the stimulus bill hurt Democrats.

Myth Five - Democrats were too timid (This is the one that got me in trouble). The myth is that Democrats lost because they failed to be bold, they compromised too much, they did not defend or explain what they accomplished.  This is just wrong, Democrats were bold, but the voters rejected what they accomplished. It was not about messaging, voters simply did not like what Democrats did.

On myth five I was asked, "how can it be that it was not a messaging problem when exit polls show that people supported health care reform?" To which I replied, no poll showed that. The response? "Yes, exit polls showed that people liked parts of the bill." And there you have it... there is a crucial difference between liking parts of a bill and supporting the entire bill.  A recent Kaiser poll demonstrates this: 
"...almost half of Americans want Washington lawmakers to repeal all or parts of the health care reform law. However, when asked about specifics, most want to keep key provisions. Over 70 percent want to keep the parts that provide tax credits to small businesses and financial help to Americans who don't get insurance through their jobs. A majority also want to keep provisions that close the Medicare doughnut hole and prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The requirement for all Americans to have health insurance or risk paying a fine is the lightning rod of health care reform. Sixty-eight percent of Americans want this provision repealed."
So people like some of it, but dislike other parts - it's possible to support repeal of a bill that contains elements that you like. I offer an illustration, Democrats support extension of the Bush tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000 a year, but oppose extending them for those earning more - if a Republican House passes an extension for everyone, Democrats will still support the part of the bill that benefits those earning $250,000 or less, but likely oppose the bill.
I understand the desire to blame the 2010 results on messaging - after all, who wants to accept that their policy preferences were just rejected by a majority of Americans? Also, a messaging problem means tweaking a communications strategy - the alternative explanation, that voters got the message but rejected the policy, means either altering your policy agenda or suffering more defeats at the hands of voters.It may be tough to accept, but Democrats did not lose because of their messaging, they lost because of their policies.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Coming Tidal Wave

I admit to being almost overwhelmed as I try to predict just what will happen on November 2nd.  In a recent essay in the Baltimore Sun I wrote that the 2010 midterms would likely be a wave election that would return House Democrats to where they were prior to the 2006 election.  That would mean a loss of 55 seats in the House. In my official prediction - as a member of the St. Mary's College faculty - I predicted a net Republican gain of 55 seats in the House and 9 in the Senate. Since making that prediction 1 week ago I now believe that I understated Republican gains in the House and overstated gains in the Senate.

Pictured below is the final collection of generic ballot results as compiled by Real Clear Politics. Look at the most recent polls from Fox, Pew, CNN, and Gallup - all show that Democrats have filed to close the gap with Republicans. President Obama and former President Clinton have been crisscrossing the country to motivate Democrats and yet they have made no impact - in fact, the CNN and Gallup numbers suggest that Republicans have gained strength in the closing days of the campaign. The momentum is with Republicans, and in close races that will likely translate into final victory by the GOP.

As Gallup notes in the write-up on its final poll, the current lead enjoyed by Republicans is unprecedented, it far surpasses their lead in 1994 or 2002. Gallup suggests that a 60 seat gain is likely the floor for gains. Several of the polls show the GOP leading even among registered voters - an almost unheard of occurrence.

Given the current state of the polls, just 48 hours before the polls close in most states, I am now revising my predictions. I believe that Republicans will gain 65 seats in the House, I also think that they'll gain 6 seats in the Senate an fall short of the number needed to claim a majority in the Senate. The gains will likely be in AK, IL, IN, ND, PA, WI - totaling 6 seats. It's possible that the GOP could pick up Harry Reid's seat in NV, but I suspect he is stronger than polls suggest and I know he has a better ground game.

Such gains in the House would be unrivaled since the age of sophisticated partisan gerrymandering, but if Republican turnout and enthusiasm, coupled with the overwhelming support of political Independents, is as predicted in current surveys - then the coming wave will be too large for gerrymandered districts and Blue state Senate candidates to withstand. Though some have tried to discount the accuracy of the polls by suggesting that the great multitude of cellphone users are not being surveyed, this is simply wrong. I stand by my argument that no matter the size of the Republican victory, it will not represent a mandate for party's agenda. Rather it will be a victory driven by Independents, many of whom voted for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but are now unhappy with the agenda that Democrats pursued.
Generic Congressional Vote

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Full Video and Highlights of the Steny Hoyer/Charles Lollar Debate at St. Mary's College on Oct. 29th

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Challenger Charles Lollar faced off at a forum sponsored by the the Center for the Study of Democracy and the St. Mary's County NAACP at St. Mary's College of Maryland on October 29th.  The full video, as well as select highlights are included below.

Full Video:

On Illegal Immigration:

On Healthcare Reform:

On Cap and Trade Legislation:

On a Balanced Budget Amendment:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Democratic Support Understated Due to Cell Phones? Not So Fast.

Over at (and linked at, Jonathan Singer notes that the new McClatchy Poll finds Democrats in a much stronger position on the generic ballot and he thinks he knows why “The Democrats' strength among registered voters comes directly from the cell-only population... This data buttresses the findings published earlier this month by Pew that if pollsters are skipping cell-only voters -- exactly the type of voters who are more likely to vote Democratic -- their results may simply be too favorable for the GOP."

The problem is, pollsters are not excluding cell phone users.'s Marc Blumenthal addressed this issue in a recent posting "At the national level, many organizations now routinely sample and call both landline and mobile phones. These include, in addition to the Pew Center, ABC News/Washington Post, AP/GfK, CBS News/New York Times, Gallup (both their daily tracking and the surveys in partnership with USA Today), Kaiser Family Foundation, McClatchy/Marist University, NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Newsweek."

Gallup, the most widely cited generic ballot pollster, has been including cell phones since 2008 and according their website "Gallup includes cell phones in each national Gallup poll. Further, cell phone-only households are now as likely to fall into national Gallup polls samples as those living in traditional landline households." Roughly 20% of households are cell phone only - and they are included in these national surveys.

If one looks at the recent polls at, it's clear that McClatchy is an outlier - I would advise against pinning Democratic hopes on some unmeasured mass of committed, eager to vote cell phone users (because they are in fact being measured). Could folks like Stu Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, and Larry Sabato be so shortsighted?

As Early Voting Ends, Numbers Suggest A Republican Victory in MD-1

Update: Early voting ended yesterday and the trends in the 1st District have held - 46.4% of ballots cast by Republicans, 42.9% by Democrats, 10.7% by Others. These numbers must be very encouraging to Harris, and probably explain why the Democratic Party is now spending money on behalf of the Libertarian candidate in the 1st District - hardly a sign of confidence.

Original Post: Maryland's 1st Congressional district is the quintessential swing district. It is 41.6% Democrat, 41.7% Republican, and 16.7% Other (mostly unaffiliated). In 2008, Democrat Frank Kratovil won against Republican Andy Harris by 2,000 votes. Kratovil is facing Harris in a rematch. Recent polls have been inconsistent with the race either tied or with Harris ahead by 4 or 11 points.

According to early voting data in Maryland, turnout has been highest in the 1st Congressional district and the numbers thus far should encourage Harris supporters. Statewide, Democratic turnout has been stronger than Republican turnout, but not in the 1st District. Republican turnout is higher and as of 10/26 Republicans have cast 46.6% of the votes, Democrats 43.4%, and Other 10%.  These numbers take on added significance given that a poll released last week by Monmouth University caused quite a stir as it showed Harris opening an 11 point lead in the race. The partisan breakdown in that poll was 46% Republican, 45% Democrat, and 9% I - so far, Republican turnout is better and Democratic turnout worse than the Monmouth sample.

In the Monmouth poll, Harris and Kratovil did equally well among their respective party's, but Harris enjoyed a 24 point lead among Independents. If I take the Monmouth poll's level of support by party ID and apply it to the early voting numbers then Harris is leading 52.4% to 47.6% - a 5 point margin. But that may understate Harris' margin. Monmouth reported both actual respondent registration as well as self-reported registration. Actual registration was the 46% R, 45% D, and 9% I - but self reported ID was 39% R, 33%D and 28% I - meaning far more Democrats are rejecting the party label than are Republicans, and, according to Monmouth, supporting Harris.

As an aside, the Baltimore Sun released a poll this week showing this race to be tied, that same poll showed that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had opened a 14 point lead over former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Early voting data suggests that the Harris/Kratovil race is anything but tied - one must wonder if the O'Malley/Ehrlich numbers in the Sun poll are off as well. According to the Ehrlich campaign, a poll conducted for them by Public Opinion Strategies finds the race statistically tied at 47% O'Malley to 44% Ehrlich among likely voters.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A 3 Point Race for Maryland Governor?

According to an Ehrlich campaign internal poll the race for Maryland governor is within the margin of error:

"Contrary to what The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post want you to believe, this race is extremely close. A survey commissioned by the Ehrlich campaign shows that as of yesterday, the campaign for governor was statistically tied among those most likely to vote. That’s right: 47 percent of the most likely voters support O’Malley and 44 percent support Bob Ehrlich, with a margin of error of 4 percent."

The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, the same firm that polled for candidate Ehrlich in 2002. Public Opinion Strategies is a well respected polling firm that polls for NPR, NBC, and the Wall Street Journal.

I have requested additional details on the poll and will post more if I receive those details, but this result seems far more realistic than the 14 point race suggested by recent Washington Post and Baltimore Sun polls and would explain why the O'Malley campaign has been bringing heavy hitters like President Obama and former President Clinton to the state. If this were a 14 point race, or even a 10 point race, Obama and Clinton would be spending time elsewhere.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In Maryland: Two Polls, Two Very Different Findings, but the Same Results?

Two polls in as many days suggest that Martin O'Malley has opened a formidable 14 point lead over former governor Bob Ehrlich - the Baltimore Sun reports that O'Malley has a 52% to 38% lead over Bob Ehrlich. The next day the Washington Post reported an O'Malley lead of 54% to 40%. Reporters from both papers seemed less than convinced by the poll results, but took comfort in the seemingly similar results - two polls, two papers, two pollsters - a 14 point lead.

In reality, the polls are quite different. Consider:

The Washington Post sees an likely voter electorate that is 59% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 11% Independent or other. The Sun poll is 57%, 30%, and 13% - not much difference, but both likely overstate Democratic turnout.

Things get a little weird when you dig a bit deeper into the cross tabs- the Post reports that Ehrlich wins Republicans by a 92% to 6% margin and wins Independents 52% -36% - he also receives only 7% of the Democratic vote. In the Sun poll, Ehrlich is doing poorly among Republicans winning 78% to O'Malley's 12% (the rest are undecided). The Sun also reports that Ehrlich is losing among Independents 37% to O'Malley's 52% - a mirror image of the Post poll. Finally, Ehrlich wins 18% of Democrats to O'Malley's 72%. The Sun also finds Ehrlich losing among men, 43% to 48% and women, 34% to 55% - in the Post Ehrlich is winning men 48% to 46%, and losing women by 62% to 33%.

So, compared to the Post, the Sun finds Ehrlich doing far worse among Republicans, losing considerably among Independents, but faring much better among Democrats- yet the topline margins are the same 14 points. So how do they arrive at the 14 point margin?  The Sun assumes a higher turnout among Independents than does the Post, but has O'Malley winning them. The Post has Ehrlich doing well among Independents, but horribly among Democrats and over states Democratic turnout.

When I take the various results and turn them into more likely turnout and support assumptions - 56% Democratic, 31% Republican, 13% Independent - and assume, realistically, that Ehrlich wins Independents and Republicans by the margin in the Post, and Democrats by the margin in the Sun then this becomes a 6 point race - 53% to 47%, advantage O'Malley. I think that's about where this race is - and the Sun and the Post should resist using the other's polls to assuage doubts about each poll based on the significant differences evident in the cross-tabs. There can be no question, however, that Ehrlich is clearly behind and by more than just a few points.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Closely Watched Maryland Swing District Republican Andy Harris Widens Lead

Many reporters have asked me how Democrat Frank Kratovil in Maryland 1st Congressional District had managed to weather the storm so far this election cycle - I said that it was testament to his strength as a candidate, but in the end the 2010 electoral tide woould wash him out of office. It now seems that the tide is coming in. After running a close race with Andy Harris a new Monmouth Poll finds Harris opening an 11 point lead.

This new poll has implications for the Maryland governors race as well, Harris leads Kratovil 58 to 34 among Independents. The district includes parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford counties. These counties, along with Howard, will be crucial to Republican Bob Ehrlich's reelection bid. If Harris truly enjoys a 24 point lead among Independents over the conservative Kratovil then it is reasonable to assume that Ehrlich will enjoy a similar margin over the more progressive Martin O'Malley.  Ehrlich needs to win Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford and run even in Howard to win the governors race - if the segments of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford included in the first district are representative of their respective counties then Bob Ehrlich may just manage a come from behind victory.

Original Post
I'm often asked about the Andy Harris / Frank Kratovil rematch in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. The moderate district had been a reliably Republican district when represented by the equally moderate Wayne Gilchrest. In 2008, Gilchrest was defeated in the Republican primary by the more conservative Andy Harris. Gilchrest endoresed Democrat Harris and that combined with Barack Obama's strong performance in the state helped elect Kratovil by about 2,000 votes.

Much has changed since 2008. The momentum nationally is with Republicans and Kratovil, though he voted against health care reform, has been painted with the broad brush of the unpopular Democratic leadership and Kratovil will not have the benefit of Barack Obama or Wayne Gilchrest's endorsement.  For those reasons I give the edge to Andy Harris. A new poll shows Harris leading 43% to 40% with about 15% undecided. Though within the margin of error, Kratovil is at 40% - deadly territory for an incumbent. Given the trajectory of the 2010 midterms, I do not see how Kratovil survives.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I'm Martin O'Bama and I Approve of this Message

Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley met for a third time today on WOLB radio. The station has a largely African American audience and issues of concern to the African American community topped the agenda early on and throughout. 

A casual listener may have been confused, however, and wondered if President Obama was running for governor of Maryland. On question after question O'Malley made reference to President Obama - President Obama is moving America forward and he needs our help to move Maryland forward. The great recession is ending and President Obama prevented a great depression.

O'Malley referred to health care as a great and "courageous" accomplishment for President Obama, his response had little to do with the question asked, but O'Malley again had to link himself to President Obama. Ehrlich offered a reasonable critique of the health reform bill, he defended some of it, criticized others - it's what a governor, what any thinking person, should do. O'Malley was so busy trying to convince voters that a vote for O'Malley was the same as a vote for Obama that he refused to even consider questioning anything the President has done and at times it seemed that he spent more time discussing Obama's record than his own. I fully expect the next O'Malley ad to end with the tag "I'm Martin O'Bama and I approve of this message."

O'Malley's worst response came early on when host Larry Young asked O'Malley to defend his zero tolerance policy while Mayor of Baltimore - a policy that resulted n the mass arrests of innocent African American men. O'Malley completely ignored the question and never defended the program.

Ehrlich had no "worst moment" but at times spent too much time talking about fact checkers instead of just refuting O'Malley. But Ehrlich did come across as a moderate and reasonable voice in a debate where O'Malley seemed like little more than a cheerleader and yes-man for President Obama.

In general I would have rated the debate a draw, if not for O'Malley's constant deference to everything President Obama has ever done. It simply came across as cheap pandering. I have to assume that the audience saw through the incredibly obvious tactic - and they should have been somewhat offended by it.

I commend Larry Young for doing an excellent job hosting the debate.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

As Expected, a Closer Race in Maryland

A new poll from Maryland's best pollster, Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, shows the O'Malley/Ehrlich contest to be a 4.5 point race - 46.9% to 42.4%. This makes much more sense than other polls that have shown a much larger O'Malley lead. Ehrlich has had a serious problem breaking the mid-40s barrier in most polls. O'Malley's approval is below 50% (where it's always been) but probably close enough to 50% in this Democratic state.

The poll makes reasonable turnout assumptions and though it shows Ehrlich within 5 points it also suggests that Ehrlich will have a tough time winning the state. It is the first poll since Ehrlich began a new round of advertising and it reflects some post debate samples.

In general, the poll shows that Ehrlich needs to boost his numbers among Democrats and in the Baltimore suburbs. O'Malley enjoys a tremendous lead in the Wasington suburbs.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Does Christine O'Donnell Define Modern Conservatism? Let's Ask Alvin Greene

Anyone else find it strange that the American media is so obsessed with Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell? Though she trails Democrat Chris Coons by double digits in the polls America was treated to national coverage of a debate between the two moderated by Wolf Blitzer. Americans are also being told that Christine O'Donnell's surprise primary victory over moderate Republican Mike Castle is evidence that the Republican Party is being taken over by an anti-intellectual denizen of Tea Partiers. Time magazine's Joel Klein suggested that it was proof that we celebrate our ignoramuses. Eugene Robinson declared her nomination to be evidence of the politics of insanity.

My problem with these arguments is simple - why is it that Christine O'Donnell defines the Republican party, but Democratic Senatorial candidate Alvin Greene of South Carolina does not define the Democratic party?

Why is it that only a rather odd Republican nominee warrants the scrutiny and concern of Klein and Robinson and the attention of CNN? O'Donnell received the votes of about 31,000 Republicans in the Delaware primary. By way of contrast, more than 100,000 South Carolina Democrats cast votes for Greene, a man under indictment for showing pornographic pictures to an 18-year old female college student. Seems that far more Democrats found him to be an appropriate spokesman.

To be fair, O'Donnell is not offered as the sole piece of evidence in the "GOP gone crazy" argument. Did Republicans in New York nominate Carl Paladino? Yes. But is he really any worse than Democrat Alan Grayson in Florida? No. The simple and inconvenient truth is that both parties are home to some pretty embarrassing candidates - but those candidates do not define the parties and we should stop pretending otherwise.

O'Donnell is being used to further a false narrative that the GOP has been taken over by anti-intellectual extremists - never mind that she won a primary in which two-thirds of Republicans in the state did not vote and she is now poised to lose the general election. Christine O'Donnell is no more the face of modern American conservatism than is Alvin Greene the face of modern American liberalism.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ehrlich v O'Malley Round Two....

The debate is over, what a difference from Monday. Ehrlich was focused and on message and I believe that he won the debate. O'Malley's answers to nearly every question were essentially the same as his answers on Monday, rather than seeming polished they seemed rehearsed. Also, during the Monday debate it was clear that neither man liked the other. Today, Ehrlich was much more respectful toward O'Malley, but O'Malley was almost dismissive of Ehrlich.

Ehrlich was also strong in response to the question about O'Malley's reference to "coded language" in the last debate. When asked, O'Malley again suggested that Ehrlich was not friendly to the interest of "poor black" citizens and Ehrlich quickly turned that into a criticism of the sales tax which he said was a regressive tax that hit poor families the hardest.

I wasn't a fan of the "silly" rapid fire questions, but one was revealing. When asked about things people may not know about the candidates and favorite music, Ehrlich had fun with the question. O'Malley revealed that he "works too hard" and passed on the favorite song question. It reinforced this rather cold demeanor that had throughout the debate.

I think O'Malley's worst moment was the discussion of pensions for state workers his "I've appointed a commission" answer is wearing thin.  Ehrlich clearly stated that defined benefit must end, as has nearly everywhere for private employees. O'Malley would not commit to ending defined benefit pensions. Mr. Governor, that ship has sailed and this election cycle voters do not want to hear about protecting generous pensions for public employees. O'Malley stumbled.

Ehrlich's weakest moment was actually on the question of the state recognizing same sex marriage. He dismissed the issue before the question was complete. It is a serious matter and deserved more serious treatment. O'Malley's defense was strong, yet O'Malley's record of leadership on the issue is non-existent.

I thought the Ehrlich's closing statement was much stronger this time as well , he was very focused on taxpayers and small business. Stated that O'Malley views citizens as a source of revenue, Ehrlich sees them as a source of jobs. He mentioned rising taxes and collapsing 401(k)s - I think he tapped into the narrative of the national political landscape well.

I give round two to Ehrlich, he was the clear winner of the debate.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Partisanship, Polarization, and the New Normal in Midterm Elections

In America, the era of elections as affirmation has ended, we are living in the era of elections as repudiation.

At this point, there is little doubt that the 2010 midterm elections are going to produce a political sea change in Washington and in State Houses across the United States. Just two years ago, pundits, politicians, and political analysts were writing the GOP’s epitaph. The party had become too conservative, too regional, too focused on social issues. Meanwhile the Democrats were enjoying a resurgence that would last a generation thanks to a reinvigorated public desire for governmental intervention in the economy and demographic changes that would further support a growing Democratic majority. Virginia and Indiana had broken their long ties to the GOP and the states of the Mountain West had become new Democratic leaning swing states.

It’s amazing how much can change in 18 months. Indiana and Virginia are no longer so friendly to the Democrats and those states in the Mountain West appear to be trending Republican again. Those predictions of a new Democratic majority in America; they seem as quaint and outdated as the predictions of a new Republican majority following the 1994 and 2002 midterms. Some commentators and even elected officials have suggested that the American electorate is simply too fickle, expects too much too soon, or in the recent words of Eugene Robinson are simply "spoiled brats." They're all wrong.

The truth is America is sailing through largely uncharted waters, down a river that has its source in the tumult and change of the 1960s. For either Democrats or Republicans to emerge as a new majority party in America, Americans would first need to gravitate to one of the parties and in a permanent way. This is what happened in the 1890s, when Americans overwhelmingly endorsed the Republican Party. In 1894, Democrats appeared to be recovering from the Age of Lincoln. Democrat Grover Cleveland was in his second term and the part controlled the House of Representatives by a margin of 218 to 124. But an economic crisis in 1893 and sectional and policy divisions within the Democratic Party raised serious public doubts about the party of Jackson. In the election of 1894, Republicans won 130 seats in the House and capture a 254 to 93 seat majority. In 1896 the Republican coup would be complete with the election of Republican William McKinley as president. It marked a 30 year period of clear Republican dominance that would not end until the economic collapse of 1929 and the midterm election of 1930 when Democrats came within a seat of reclaiming the House and the Senate. Over the next three elections Democrats would net a total of 37 Senate seats and 170 House seats. This Democratic realignment was made complete with the overwhelming election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Democrats remained the majority party until the late 1960s.

Since 1968, neither party has been able to claim the allegiance of a majority of Americans. In fact, party attachment has been on the decline and the share of voters identifying as Independent or only “weakly” attached to either party has increased sharply. According to data from the American National election Study, in 1964 approximately 76% of the country identified as a “Partisan” (either week or strong) in contrast only 24% identified as Independent or Leaning Independent. By 1984 it was 65% to 35% and in 2008 it was 60% to 40%. Across that 42 year span the share identifying as “Strong Partisans” decreased from 38% in 1964 to 32% in 2008 and “Weak Partisans” declined from 38% to 28%. The share identifying as “Leaning Independent” doubled from 15% to 29%. Americans began a forty year trek away from the political parties – but especially the Democrats. In 1964, 52% of Americans identified as either “Weak” or “Strong” Democrats and 35% as “Weak” or “Strong” Republicans, 23% were Independents (some committed and others with “leanings” toward Republicans or Democrats). By 1984 that breakdown was 37% Democrat, 27% Republican, and 35% Independent. In 2008 it was 34%, 26%, and 40% respectively. Americans have become less attached to either party.

But as Americans have moved away from party, the parties have responded by becoming ever more partisan and polarized. Since the 1960s and the decline of the Democrat party's advantage American politics has become far more competitive. The Democrats lost their hold on the South, the Republicans lost their hold on the North East. According to data from State Politics and Policy Quarterly only 7 states had divided government in 1954, in 2007 that number stood at 23 states. With few exceptions, either party has fair shot at winning statewide elections in most states (remember, we vote for offices other than President). A recent study by political scientist Daniel Coffey determined that there is a direct and positive correlation between party competition and party ideology. As a state becomes more competitive between Republicans and Democrats the respective parties become ever more conservative and liberal. V.O. Key hinted at this in 1956 when he argued that competition would force parties to offer more distinct policies to voters in an effort to influence their choice. Additionally, as competition increases the parties come to rely more heavily, not on the mean, median, or moderate voter, but rather on the more committed and active voter. For Democrats this means liberal activists and for Republicans conservative activists. This has the effect of pushing the parties ever farther to the extreme. Multiple studies have confirmed that Congress is a polarized body devoid of a political center.

Though some scholars have advanced the theory that this growing polarization among elected officials is in fact reflective of a polarized public (see Pietro Nivola and David Brady’s “Red and Blue Nation?” volumes or more recently Alan Abramowitz’s “The Disappearing Center”), there is in fact little evidence that the mass public has become polarized. Rather the polarization has occurred among committed political activists and the interest groups they support – a relatively small share of the electorate. Morris Fiorina’s “Disconnect argues this quite effectively.

A new study by Joseph Bafumi and Michael Herron (in the latest volume of the journal American Political Science Review) lends further credence to the argument that parties are more polarized and the electorate is not. I think that their study also helps us to better understand the dynamics of the 1994, 2002, 2006, and 2010 midterms.

Bafumi and Herron compared roll call votes of members of the 109th (the last under Republican control) and 110th (the first under Democratic control post 2006 midterm) Congresses with voter responses drawn from a survey of over 33,000 Americans. Through this process, the authors were able to plot the ideology of members of Congress as well as the median ideology of Democratic, Republican, and all voters in a state. What they found is fascinating. In nearly every state studied Democratic members of Congress were well to the left of the median voter and even to the left of the median Democratic voter. Likewise, Republicans were well to the right. Further, they determined that the median member of the 109th Congress was well to the right of the median American voter. This may help to explain the Republican’s loss of the House and the Senate in 2006. But the authors determined that the 2006 election did not bring a sense of balance to Congress, in fact the median member of the newly elected Democratic Congress was well to the left of the median American voter. In short, the median voter had been “leapfrogged” in the 2006 election as Congress moved from one extreme to the other.

Which brings us to 2010. Republicans are poised to make significant gains in the House and Senate. Most analysts agree now that they are likely to reclaim the House and may come within 1 or 2 seats of reclaiming the Senate (a takeover is not impossible). Democrats stand to lose all of the ground that they won in 2006 and 2008. Why? Because the American public is not polarized, neither the Democratic nor Republican parties can lay claim to a majority or perhaps even a plurality of Americans. But ours is a two party system and Americans must choose between Republicans or Democrats. So in 2006, a moderate electorate rejected the extremes of the Republican Congress in the only way they could, by voting for Democrats. In 2010, a moderate electorate is set to go to the polls and reject the extremes of the Democratic Congress in a similar fashion. The lesson for Republicans should be clear, voters are no more endorsing a conservative agenda in 2010 than were they endorsing liberalism in 2006. For Republicans, failure to adhere to that lesson will likely lead to a repeat of 2006 and 2010 in 2014.

So long as America’s dominant political parties continue their ideological drift away from the median voter the American electorate will continue to drift away from the parties. A recent study by Pew speaks to the potential for this, in a September 2006 survey Pew found that Independent voters favored a Democrat for Congress by an 18 point margin, a similar survey last month showed Independents now favoring a Republican by a 15 point margin – a 33 point swing. Pew also found that Independents were the largest voting bloc claiming 37% of the electorate, and increase of 3 percentage points in two years. If such dramatic swings occur among 37% of the electorate, then so-called wave elections like 1994, 2006, and perhaps 2010 may become the new normal in America. Meaning no party can take its control of Congress for granted. The question is whether this Congressional competitiveness will force one or both parties to moderate or simply make them more extreme.

St. Mary's College to Host Forum with Steny Hoyer and Charles Lollar - 10/29/2010

The Center for the Study of Democracy and the St. Mary's County Branch of the NAACP will cosponsor a candidates forum between Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican challenger Charles Lollar on Friday, October 29th. The Forum will be held at St. Mary's College of Maryland and will be moderated by Dr. Todd Eberly, Interim Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Wayne Scriber, President of the St. Mary's County NAACP.

The forum is set to begin at 6:30 PM, in Auerbach Auditorium in St. Mary's Hall. The event will be open to the press and the public. Though seating will be limited.

Though Majority Leader Hoyer won reelection with 75% of the vote in 2008, the political ground has shifted in 2010.
  • Congressional Quarterly rates the 5th Congressional District a “safe Democratic” seat, but the race gained national attention recently when former presidential adviser and political strategist Dick Morris declared the seat “winnable” and Lollar has been interviewed or featured on several national television and radio programs.
  • Recent news accounts in the New York Times and other outlets have focused on the Republican’s “expanded battlefield” with Democrats defending seats once considered to be safe.
  • In Michigan, John Dingell, Jr., the longest serving Democrat in the House is trailing his Republican opponent and polling below 40%.

Media inquiries can be directed to Todd Eberly, Interim Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at or 240-895-4215.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Quick Reaction to Maryland Gubernatorial Debate

My very quick take on the debate:

No game changers and no clear winner. O'Malley was more polished, Ehrlich had a chance to answer O'Malley's ads.

I think that O'Malley crossed a line with his reference, twice, to the use of "coded language" during the discussion of student performance in Baltimore. It was a thinly veiled accusation of racism and I think that it was so out of left field that it tainted O'Malley's performance. Ehrlich says that the "being born poor should not determine the quality of a child's education" and O'Malley responds by accusing Ehrlich of racism. It was not O'Malley's finest moment.

Ehrlich's insistence on giving the final closing statement was just a bad moment for him. Who cares who goes first, O'Malley was happy to go first or second. The exchange diminished Ehrlich in comparison and his closing statement wasn't especially powerful or focused so I'm not sure why he cared about the order.

Live Blogging the Maryland Gubernatorial Debate - Keep Refreshing the Page

So, who won?  O'Malley was more polished - as he usually is - I'm not sure that 2010 is a year for polished politicians. That said, O'Malley stayed more focused, used questions to his advantage and had key talking points that he hammered away at. I think that his defense of taking federal funds and his tax increase may have been missteps.

Ehrlich had weak opening and closing statements, but found his footing in between. He needed to hammer away at O'Malley on the sales tax and income tax increases, and did so only late in the debate. His focus on federal funds to prop up spending was wise. I also think that he did a good job of talking about non-Republican issues like furlough, help for minority child in failing schools, working families and the sales tax.

On balance, I think O'Malley was more focused and on message, but his reference, twice, to the use of "coded language" suggesting that Ehrlich was race baiting was a very unfortunate, and frankly indefensible attack.  It was a cheap shot made, I assume, to motivate African American voters. It tainted O'Malley's performance.

Ehrlich entered tonight's debate trailing in the polls. I can't think of anything in the debate that would change the dynamic of the race. I can see why Ehrlich has agreed to multiple debates. O'Malley has a clear cash advantage and the debates are free advertising for Ehrlich - but he needs to be more focused and clearly refute O'Malley's ads. O'Malley needs to reconsider his defense of using federal stimulus funds to plug the state's budget - that issue is a loser in 2010.

I cannot wait for the next debate.

7:55 - Closing Statements - who cares who goes first? Ehrlich looked bad in that exchange.

O'Malley mentions new economy and states that will win and move forward. Innovation economy mentioned again. I am on your side. Big "everything" have people on their side. I'm on your side. I need your help.

Ehrlich - Big is evil, except when it's a casino and gives O'Malley $16,000. Ehrlich defends record on employment, ICC, Maryland has record unemployment, tax increases and we have a choice in November.

Ehrlich does not do opening and closing statements well.

7:50 - Immigration - Ehrlich mentions tuition and driver licenses - he blocked in-state tuition and could not block the drivers licenses. Casa de Maryland using state money to assist illegal behavior. We are all immigrants, but should accept one culture. No in state tuition, no driver's licenses. Democrats and Republicans have failed on this policy.

O'Malley criticizes existing immigration law and defers to federal government. Need comprehensive reform. Mentions that Ehrlich said multiculturalism in bunk.  Do not blame new Americans for our problems. Mentions Wall Street and unfunded Wars.

7:45 - Campaign Ads- Why negative? O'Malley calls his ads fair and pointing out Ehrlich's "fantasy world." "I have an obligation to compare and contrast records." We've run positive ads as well. Mentions new business developments.

Ehrlich - O'Malley spent $24 billion more. Thanks "Andrew" for the question.  O'Malley has run "over the top" negative ads. "Blamed me for the Louisiana oil spill" Ehrlich says that with all of his advantages O'Malley has gone negative, because negatives work. But O'Malley went negative so early. But Ehrlich should have challenged specific ads and didn't. His answer is not focused enough. Cute response about buying ads on Ehrlich's radio show.

O'Malley criticizes Ehrlich's radio show and mentions that Ehrlich took federal money as well.

Ehrlich now mentions the $1.4 billion tax increase under O'Malley. He needs to hammer away at that. Mentions "victory parties" but no new jobs and doubled unemployed. Again you spent more, I left you a $1 billion surplus.

O'Malley makes an odd reference to President Bush and defends tax increase. Argues that taxes are lower for 41% of Marylanders due to tax exemptions and earned income tax credit.

Ehrlich accuses O'Malley of class warfare. Maryland General Assembly would not cut taxes. O'Malley blames Bush, but what about jobs?

7:40 - Firearms? Why does anyone care? Ehrlich reaffirms defense of 2nd amendment. Gun violence driven by addiction. Mentions Supreme Court affirmation of gun rights.

O'Malley - Gun and gun violence fuel crime. O'Malley believes in limiting access to rapidfire guns. Defends Baltimore's crime reduction record. Parole, probation, juvenile services part of solution.  O'Malley is making better use of the question to talk about crime.  Mentions 24,000 DNA backlog lleft by Ehrlich. Caught 270 violent offenders.  Strong answer from O'Malley.

Ehrlich - DNA sample bill was an Ehrlich initiative. Ehrlich created the database and the new work. Mentions the blanket arrests in Baltimore under O'Malley. This is a tough, but accurate criticism. Ehrlich needs to be more focused though. That was a tough hit at O'Malley and he should have spent more time on it. Stop talikng about guns - get back to the mass arrests in Baltimore.

O'Malley - DNA backlog went analyzed. "C'mon, man" Steep decline in homicide rates.

Ehrlich - but law enforcement endorsed me.

7:30 - Teachers - O'Malley defends furloughs as better than mass layoffs. O'Malley says that we protected children's achievement levels. Education should not be a recession victim.

Ehrlich again says no to furloughs. May not save what you expected. Ehrlich speaks directly to state employees. Interesting tactic, may help in Maryland. Stands him apart from Republican Party. Speaks to low income single families working for state, sales tax, community college increases- Ehrlich is appealing to working families. Interesting tactic.

O'Malley says that Ehrlich worked to overthrow union contracts and that Ehrlich would cut education funding. O'Malley is back to education.

Ehrlich says that O'Malley is not funding things that he claims to support, but rather he is using temporary federal funds not fixed dollars. Ehrlich says that O'Malley is using federal funds to continue spending and that money will go away.

O'Malley defends using federal funding. Not sure if that is a good tactic.

Ehrlich attacks again the use of federal money.

7:25 - Public Education - O'Malley should be strong on this. Says he provided record funding for schools, recognized as among the best, won Race to the Top federal grant. Doubled charter schools. Incentives to recruit teachers to hard schools.

Ehrlich - Supported funding Thorton. We have some very good schools in well off areas.  But what of the failing schools in Baltimore City? Schools that O'Malley would not help them in 2006. Ehrlich is being passionate about Baltimore schools. Takes credit for charter schools in the state. "Born poor should not determine quality of education." This is Ehrlich's strongest answer so far.

O'Malley's response was below the belt and a bit disturbing. Ehrlich made a passionate defense of quality education and O'Malley accused him of using coded language - essentially suggesting that Ehrlich was denegrating "children of color."

Ehrlich's response was strong, we must defend the rights of children of color.

O'Malley's use again of the term "coded languge" that's such a loaded accusation.

I think Ehrlich wins that exchange because O'Malley went dirty.

7:15 - Taxes?  O'Malley will not pledge to not raise taxes, mentions Ehrlich's increases in fees, property taxes, and business filing fees.  Says that he decreased spending - state spending (he is excluding federal dependent spending).  O'Malley says the state is creating jobs. Mentions innovation economy again - is this a message that resonates?

State workers? Ehrlich says no to furloughs. It demoralizes workers. On the Budget - O'Malley's budgets were $24 billion more than Ehrlich's - O'Malley just used federal dollars. Ehrlich needs to do a better job clearly stating what he's talking about. Says he doubled need based aid for college. Fewer Maryland kids are being admitted to Maryland schools - makes it more affordable for out of staters.

O'Malley - Making college more affordable is crucial, "innovation economy" again. College prices increased under Ehrlich by 40%. Ehrlich did not freeze college tuition, forced a 40% increase. O'Malley had a 4 year freeze. Ehrlich did vote to increease property tax.

Ehrlich - property tax went down. Governors do not set tuition. O'Malley ads are half truths.

7:10 - The Economy - Ehrlich needs to win on this issue. Maryland "hostile" to business. Too much regulation, no net gain of jobs. "Small business community is backbone of community. Business people need answers, not hostility. Small business and source to tax or a source of jobs. We cannot rely on federal spending or base closings."  Strong answer from Ehrlich, but still needs to be focused.

O'Malley reminds that all are hurting. O'Malley links regulation to the health of the Bay. "Key to creating jobs is transformation into innovation. Biotech, life science." O'Malley says 33,000 net new jobs in Maryland - not sure of his math there. Unemployment has doubled. US Chamber of Commerce named Maryland #2 state for technology.

Ehrlich - Reminds all that we get a lot of federal dollars from NHI, Military, 216,000 Marylanders out of work. Maryland had higher "pro-business" rating under Ehrlich. This is about "private sector jobs" not public sector jobs.

7:05 - Opening statements, Casual Bob Ehrlich has come to the debate, Ehrlich needed to be more formal in in this debate. His opening statement was not focused. Spent more time thanking people than anything else.

Too Serious Martin O'Malley has come, he's trying to hypnotize the audience with his stare.  His statement is more foccused. Ehrlich says "Governors matter" but O'Malley is explaining why.

O'Malley wins the opening statement.

7PM - The stakes are high, especially for Ehrlich. He's trailing and needs a solid performance. O'Malley just needs to avoid any mistakes.

I'll be live blogging the gubernatorial debate in Maryland tonight starting at 7pm.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Absolutely No Evidence of a Democratic Rebound

Though some hopeful partisans and a few members of the press have written recently about renewed hope among Democrats that the 2010 midterms will not be as bad as previously thought there is in fact no evidence to support the theory of a Democratic rebound. In fact, things appear to be getting worse not better. Some, including myself, argued that the election of Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell in Delaware had eliminated all hope among the GOP of retaking the Senate and had served to awaken Democratic voters and wavering Independents... not so fast. The latest round of survey data in key states suggests that GOP still has a shot at the Senate. Recent surveys in West Virginia and Wisconsin show a clear Republican advantage. Sharon Angle appears to have pulled ahead in Nevada and now two new surveys show Dino Rossi leading Patti Murray in Washington state. Republicans appear poised to win in AR, COIN, ND, and PA for a gain of five seats.  Now add WV, WI, IL, NV, and WA and that's 10 states and the majority.

In the battle for the House news is equally bad for Democrats. Republicans enjoy a lead in every survey of likely voters and the lead ranges from 3 to 18 points. Historically, Republicans have rarely ever led on the generic ballot making the consistent lead across polls especially significant. The most recent CBS News/ New York Times survey finds Republicans with an 8 point lead a substantial increase from the 2 point lead they enjoyed last month.

Certainly no evidence of Democratic momentum there.

And Republicans seem to be expanding the battlefield "Republican challengers are suddenly threatening once-safe Democrats in New England and the Northwest, expanding the terrain for potential GOP gains and raising the party's hopes for a significant victory in next month's elections." And even a institution in the House like John Dingell of Michigan is polling below 40% and trailing in his reelection bid. "If Dingell is truly down in this D+13 district, what does this say for Democratic chances in the 5th (D+12) and the 12th (D+13), neither of which appear to be on anyone's radar screens?"

Last, a new strategy memo from Stan Greenberg and James Carville finds that Democrats have been doing more harm than good by telling voters that Republicans would move America in the wrong direction.
"Voters are not moved by Democratic messages that say 'go forward, not back,' mention President Bush, compare then and now, or even that hint the economy is 'showing signs of progress'... After hearing this battle of Republican and Democratic messages, 8 percent shift their vote to support the Republican, while only 5 percent move to the Democrats. We lose ground. These messages are helping the Republicans."
There has been no rebound...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maryland Morning Discussion of the Citizens United Ruling

On Friday October 8th, I spoke with Sheilah Kast of WYPR's Maryland Morning about the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC on Maryland as well as the gubernatorial race and the race in the 1st Congressional District. Listen to the segment.

In Maryland, Can Ehrlich Halt the Slide?

Though I stand by my recent critique of the Washington Post poll that showed Martin O'Malley with an 11 point lead over Bob Ehrlich, the latest statewide survey from Rasmussen Reports shows that Ehrlich has clearly lost momentum in the race. I believe the reason is O'Malley's aggressive and effective advertising campaign. Every morning as parents are getting their kids ready for school or daycare or otherwise prepping for the day they are treated to a number of positive ads touting O'Malley's support for education funding and even more hard hitting negative ads linking Bob Ehrlich to corporate interest and, brazenly, attacking Ehrlich for tax and fee increases during his tenure and for a 72% electricity rate hike by BGE.

O'Malley could be called to the mat on many of these issues, but especially on the issue of tax increases and the BG&E rate hikes.  On taxes, it is astonishing that O'Malley has chosen to run against Ehrlich on that issue. Though Ehrlich did preside over increases in titling fees, a new flush tax for the Bay, and a small property tax increase, O'Malley called a special session of the General Assembly in 2007 and substantially increased the state sales tax and the income tax. But the ads and claims have gone largely unanswered. With regard to BG&E, Ehrlich inherited a rate increase that resulted from poorly crafted legislation. The General Assembly had imposed a multi-year rate freeze on BG&E and that freeze expired in 2006. BG&E responded by raising rates to market levels. During the 2006 campaign, Martin O'Malley pledged to "take on" BG&E and halt the rate increases - even running campaign ads based on the pledge.

In the end, however, for all of the sound and fury the BG&E rate hike went into effect under Martin O'Malley's newly elected administration. The Ehrlich campaign has produced a video refuting the BG&E claims by O'Malley - but good luck ever seeing the ad on TV.

O'Malley clearly enjoys a cash advantage in this race and he has used that advantage to run a very effective ad campaign that has driven Bob Ehrlich's negatives higher. Everyone knew this would be a race decided by 4 points here or there and the O'Malley team knew that they just needed to raise doubts in the minds of the small group of undecided voters. Recent surveys suggest that they have done just that. The question now is whether the Ehrlich campaign has the time and the resources to effectively counter the O'Malley machine. They have to hope that it's not already too late.

The candidates have agreed to two debates so far, the first of which will air on Oct. 11. Ehrlich needs to bring his best game and appeared passionate and engaged. He needs to remind voters of his recently released Roadmap 2020 and enunciate a clear vision for the state - something he failed to do in 2006. If he fails to do that, he may not be able to recover. O'Malley tends not to connect well with voters in formal events and he needs to avoid sounding rehearsed or detached.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why I Criticize Newsweek's Polls

Update - The latest data from Gallup further illustrates why I dismiss Newsweek polls. Gallup finds that the GOP has 3 point lead among Registered Voters, but when Gallup models the data for Likely Voters that GOP lead balloons to 13 points. These polls are tied to an actual upcoming election as such a model (like Gallup's) that seeks to estimate voter behavior is useful, whereas a model that seeks to estimate the views of all registered voters - those who will vote as well as those who won't (Newsweek) - is meaningless.

I've enjoyed a very constructive e-mail conversation with's Mark Blumenthal today and based on that exchange I would like to make clear my problems with Newsweek's polls. Essentially it boils down to this - Newsweek is trying to characterizing how Americans will vote next month based on a sample of self-identified registered voters, weighted to match general population parameters, rather than on a more reasonable sub-sample or model of the likely electorate. As Blumenthal indicated in our exchange, and as most political scientists are aware, between 75% and 80% of all adults will self report as registered voters, but midterm turnout among eligible adults typically hovers around 40%. By focusing on the universe of registered voters, weighted to match the population, Newsweek's poll(s) actually tell us little about the upcoming (or any) election.

Allow me to explain my problems with Newsweek's polling methods:

The latest Newsweek poll, unlike all others, shows Democrats with a 5 point lead in the generic ballot - 48% to 43%. But if you look at the crosstabs on page 2 of the poll it shows that Republicans prefer a Republican by a margin of 93 to 4 and Democrats prefer a Democrat by a margin of 96 to 2 - but Independents prefer a Republican by a huge 47% to 30% margin... and yet Newsweek reports that Democrats enjoy a 5 point lead.

Based on the reported sample size of 305 Republicans (34%), 327 Democrats (36%), and 234 Independents (26%) this simply cannot be - in fact based on those numbers the poll should show a 44% to 44% tie. The data is then weighted based on Census data and the result is an impressive 8% point advantage for Democrats among registered voters in the sample - 39% Dem, 31% Rep, 26% Ind. Then there are another 4% or 36 respondents not mentioned much anywhere in the results, but clearly included in the calculation. If one assumes that roughly 55% of those 36 unaffiliated voters prefer Democrats then indeed you can arrive at the 48% to 43% number.

If you weight your data to turn a 2% turnout advantage for Democrats into an 8% advantage you're likely to find some good news for the Democrats. But is it realistic? The Newsweek numbers are akin to the advantage enjoyed by Democrats in 2008, an unlikely scenario in 2010.

I'm not questioning Newsweek's motives, but I am suggesting that the assumptions upon which they weight their data are flawed when trying to predict actual voting. As flawed as the recent Washington Post poll of the Maryland gubernatorial contest and as flawed as the recent surveys in California that showed Democrats surging. If you ignore past turnout models, if you dismiss evidence of strong GOP turnout in your own sample, and if you make a series of assumptions that work only to the benefit of Democrats then your polls will indeed show good news for Democrats - but will they be accurate?

Weighting by "gender, age, education, race, region, and population density" based on Current Population Survey data is not at all uncommon, but may not be the best predictor of actual voting. If I were interetsted favorite ice cream flavor I would weight by CPS, but not for voting. For instance, were a firm to survey Maryland voters and then weight the sample for known population parameters the survey would overstate the share of the electorate that would be African American or from Baltimore City and understate the share that would be Republican. Whereas a review of actual turnout data would show that the actual voters in Maryland are quite different from the universe of possible voters derived from the CPS.

This is why building a weight based on actual past voter turnout and exit polls from prior elections is more useful and appropriate. Can anyone seriously say that the electorate come November is going to be 39% Democrat to 31% Republican? That Democrats will match their 2008 performance? The fact that the initial sample was 36% Dem to 34% Rep should have been an indicator of voter intention and preference.

To quote from Alvarez and Nagler (2005) "If the known and observable attributes (say age, which we observe in the population and measure in the sample) are correlated with the political behavior we want to estimate (say the Kerry-Bush vote in the 2004 election), then if we have a sample that does not accurately represent the age distribution of the electorate adjustment to the age distribution of our sample can help improve the accuracy of our behavioral estimate. This is where reliable weighting methodologies can help improve the accuracy of our inferences; this is also where poor weighting methodologies can lead our inferences astray."

Newsweek ignores actual vote trends and turnout in favor of a methodology that will almost always result in a weighted sample that is more Democratic than was the initial sample and, based on their track record, the actual voters.

One may well ask "Why should an unweighted sample with known biases toward older, whiter, better educated and more affluent Americans produce a more reliable estimate of party ID than a sample weighted to match Census estimates of gender, age, education, race, region, and population density?"

A reasonable answer would be, perhaps because in the current electoral environment, and in fact in nearly every election, the electorate will in fact be be older, whiter, better educated and more affluent than the population of registered voters and especially the actual population of those eligible to vote. Weighting a sample based on the CPS so that 21% of the sample is aged 18-29, for example, would not improve the findings given that 18-29 year olds are only 18% of actual voters. Or weighting it such that those 65+ were 12% of the sample would not help when they are in fact 16% of voters. When the weights that one applies result in a party ID breakdown that appears to be clearly at odds with present conditions and past voting patterns then it may be time to reconsider those weights.

I understand that the Newseek poll is in fact in line with other national polls given the margin of error, but Newsweek "makes news" with its polls and when they are writing stories suggesting that the 2010 political terrain isn't really that bad for Democrats (based solely on their own polls) as they did this month and last then I think that it is only right to point out their methods have a long history of overstating Democratic turnout. An unmotivated Democratic voter reading the latest issue of Newsweek may well conclude, "gee, 2010 might not be so bad, I guess I don't need to vote."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is the New Washington Post Poll "Out of Whack?"

Update - According to Blair Lee with the Gazette of Business and Politics the Washington Post weights it polls according to Census data and not actual turnout - as a result the poll is overstating turnout among key constituent groups and heavily Democratic Baltimore City.

Original Post with revised analysis based on material provided by the Washington Post:

Much news has been made in the past few days since the Washington Post released a new poll in the Maryland governors race that showed incumbent Democrat Martin O'Malley opening a huge 11 point lead over former governor Bob Ehrlich. No other poll has found this race to be anything but a dead heat and news that the O'Malley campaign is bringing President Obama to the state certainly suggests that this is a close race.

When asked about the new poll, Ehrlich described it as "out of whack." In a story about Ehrlich's comments, Washington Post reporter John Wagner noted that Ehrlich did not identify any problems with the polls methodology. Having read through the data made available by the Post I can see no obvious methodological problems, but I am left wondering about the Post's turnout assumptions, like some recent polls in California I think the Post may be overstating likely Democratic turnout.

The Post does not provide a breakdown of party ID among likely voters, but polling director Jon Cohen provided that data to me today. Party ID was 50% Dem, 26% Rep, and 23% Ind. The Post data also lacks cross tabs showing the level of support for each candidate by party ID among likely voters, Cohen provided that as well - O'Malley is winning 87% of Dems, 5% of Reps, and 31% of Inds, Ehrlich wins 10% of Dems, 93% of Reps, and 54% of Inds.

This is crucial information and suggests that the Washington Post is overstating Democratic turnout and understating Republican turnout in 2010.  Consider - the 2004 Maryland turnout (a decent Republican year)was 48% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 22% Independent; the 2008 turnout numbers (an incredible Democratic year) were 51% Democrat, 28% Republican and 21% Independent.

So the Post sees a 2010 electorate that every bit as Democrat as was 2008 and less Republican than either the bad year of 2008 or the good year of 2004. In other words, in a year marked by a tremendous enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans the Post thinks that Democrats will rival their 2008 turnout and Republicans will not even be able to reach their's - this is just not a reasonable assumption.

Those differences may seem slight, but based on the cross tab data provided by Jon Cohen it is possible to model the Post's data based on a turnout dynamic like 2004 and 2008. I've done this in Tables One through Four below.

If 2004 turnout numbers are applied to the Post poll (Table One) the results become 50% O'Malley to 45% Ehrlich - a statistical tie in line with all other polls.
Using the 2008 turnout assumptions (Table Four) the results of the poll become 54% O'Malley to 44% Ehrlich - essentially the margin reported by the Post. This leads me to believe that the Post is assuming/modeling a turnout dynamic similar to 2008 - and that seems highly unlikely in the current political environment. This primary season has been marked by historic levels of GOP voter turnout and in key races in VA, NJ, and MA Democratic turnout was well off of the 2008 levels while GOP turnout was steady.

For these reasons I would argue that 2004 is a much more likely scenario - and that would make this a 4 point race and within the margin of error.

The Post poll also found that Ehrlich is winning just 10% of Democrats. That seems low, in the Democratic primary just two weeks ago fully 14% of Democrats voted against O'Malley and for two unknown candidates.  If one assumes that Ehrlich wins 14% of Democrats (a number well below the roughly 22% he won in 2002 and the 15% he won in 2006) the poll results become 51% to 49% (Table Three).

Of course, if Ehrlich did receive 20% of the Democratic vote and the turnout is like 2004 then he's ahead 52% to 48% (Table Five). Even using a 2008 dynamic the race would be tied at 50% to 50% (Table Six).

In short, I suspect that the Washington Post poll actually confirms that the race between Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich is a toss-up. I don't think that the poll is "out of whack" I just think that their turnout assumptions are wrong. Jon Cohen explained to me that the post weights "our adult sample to information we have good reason to believe is true, not an estimate about what a future population (voters might look like." That is of course their right, but it makes far more sense to base turn-out on actual past turnout numbers and not on a simple breakdown of the adult population - in other words a model should be based on actual voters not just all people.

I'd like to thank John Wagner and Jon Cohen for being so willing to speak with me about the poll and for being so accessible.

Stay tuned....

Friday, September 24, 2010

For Democrats, No Relief in Sight

Though the Realclearpolitics average of Generic Ballot questions has shown a decided narrowing between Republicans and Democrats a slew of recent stories suggests that the playing field has far from improved for Democrats. Consider these three tidbits from the last 12 hours:

  • The Voter Confidence Index, created by NBC News, is a combination of three questions commonly asked in national polls: the president's job approval rating, the direction of the country, and the generic congressional ballot. A positive VCI is good for the president's party; a negative one is bad. Currently, the VCI shows Obama and the Democratic Party in negative territory, with a -38 VCI average for the month of September. That’s eight points worse than where President Clinton and the Democrats stood in 1994, when Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate.

  • A new Pew poll finds "For the third national election in a row, independent voters may be poised to vote out the party in power. The Republican Party holds a significant edge in preferences for the upcoming congressional election among likely voters, in large part because political independents now favor Republican candidates by about as large a margin as they backed Barack Obama in 2008 and congressional Democratic candidates four years ago.The survey finds that 50% of likely voters say they will vote for the Republican in their district, while 43% favor the Democratic candidate. The GOP’s advantage comes as a result of their 49% to 36% lead among independent and other non-partisan voters.

  • In a new poll, GOP pollster Glen Bolger finds Republicans leading the generic congressional ballot, 44% to 39%.  "We looked at the sample in the 66 Democratic INCUMBENT districts that Charlie Cook lists as either toss-up or leaning Democratic at the time of the survey. In that key crosstab of Swing Democratic Incumbent Seats, the Republican lead grows to 49%-31% on the generic ballot. That is a very powerful crosstab that says the wave is coming... Regionally, the Republican wins 47%-39% in the South, 47%-35% in the Midwest, and 46%-36% in the West, while trailing 36%-47% in the Northeast. The Midwest is going to be a killing field for Democrats this year — from western PA through to the Plains, Republicans are going to sweep a LOT of Democrats right out of office."
So collectively,  Democrats are in worse shape on the VCI than in 1994, Independents have shifted to the GOP with the same intensity that they shifted to Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and the GOP enjoys a tremendous lead in the 66 most vulnerable Democratic districts - AND, contrary to claims that the GOP is becoming a regional party the Glen Bolger poll finds the GOP leading everywhere except the Northeast.