Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why Isn’t Romney Running Away With This Election?

Charlie Cook, the venerable elections and polling guru whose Cook Report is a must read for political junkies, posted an interesting article today headlined “It Shouldn’t Be Close.”  In it, Cook argues that based on the economic “fundamentals” alone, Romney should be leading Obama in the polls.  He writes, “Whether one looks at polling measurements of whether voters think the country is headed in the right direction, at consumer confidence, or at key economic measurements such as growth in gross domestic product, deviations in the unemployment rate, or the change in real personal disposable income, it is puzzling, to say the least, why polls show President Obama and Mitt Romney running neck and neck. Incumbents generally don’t get reelected with numbers like we are seeing today.”

If the economic fundamentals are as lousy as Cook suggests, why do the national polls suggest that not only is Obama still in the race, he is probably slightly ahead? Cook believes it is because of the campaign missteps Romney has made, such as allowing Obama to frame the media narrative in terms of Romney’s tax returns and Bain experience, combined with Romney’s lackluster personality.  Cook’s explanation, focusing as it does on issues of campaign tactics and personalities, would likely meet with approval by most pundits.  As longtime readers won’t be surprised to hear, however, I think Cook is wrong to dismiss the economic fundamentals.  In fact, those fundamentals – at least some of them – do not necessarily suggest that this race “should not be close.” As I noted in an earlier post, based on second quarter GDP growth numbers alone, history suggests Obama will win a smidgen more than 50% of the two-party popular vote.  True, this doesn’t indicate a landslide victory for Obama, but neither does it suggest Romney should be winning this race, despite Cook’s assertion to the contrary.  Of course, 2nd quarter GDP growth alone doesn’t explain everything about an election outcome.  But if even you include other factors, such as Obama’s current approval rating and the fact that he’s an incumbent, history still gives Obama a slight advantage in the popular vote, as indicated by forecast models by Alan Abramowitz and John Sides and Lynn Vavreck.

Of course, as Sides reminds us, these forecasts are based on probability models that include a fair share of uncertainty, so while the economic fundamentals suggest Obama should win, it doesn’t mean he will.  (This gives me a chance to plug John and Lynn’s new book on the 2012 election, which I am certainly going to assign in my elections course.)  I want to go a step further than John, however, and suggest that we should not dismiss Cook’s analysis in its entirety.  For, in truth, not all forecast models based on economic fundamentals indicate that Obama should win this election.  For example, Jim Campbell points out that if we expand the timespan of forecasters’ analyses to include average GDP growth from a president’s second year through the second quarter of an election year, Obama’s reelection chances look a bit less promising.

Moreover, as I discussed in this post, Doug Hibbs’  “Bread and Peace” model, which has proved reliable in the past, predicts that Obama will receive just 47.5% of the two-party vote come November. Rather than GDP, Hibbs’ model includes measures for changes in disposal income and American military fatalities.  It is a reminder that there is more than one way to gauge economic fundamentals.

To further complicate matters, according to a recent press release, two Colorado University professors are poised to release their own study purportedly showing that based on state-level economics factors, Romney is going to win 52.9% of the two-party vote, compared to Obama’s 47.1%. I’ve not yet seen the  model on which this forecast is based so I’m not ready to evaluate their prediction, but it potentially provides further evidence that Cook is not entirely off base in arguing that Romney should be doing better in the polls.

My point is that even political scientists are not in full agreement regarding what aspects of the economy are most “fundamental” to presidential election outcomes.  Moreover, each of their forecasts comes with a degree of uncertainty built into their estimates.  This means that, in a close election, forecast models that differ in their prediction regarding the election winner in November could nonetheless all be considered accurate if the final popular vote falls within their specified level of uncertainty.  Of course, this is small consolation to the layperson who wants to know now who the likely winner will be come November 6th, which is what most of you care about!  But it is important to remember that political scientists speak in probabilities, based on past events, not certainties.

So, where does the election stand today?  I would make two points.  First, the median prediction of the econometric forecast models of which I am aware right now hovers just above the 50% mark, suggesting that Obama is a very – emphasis on very – slight favorite. Second, models that include measures of Obama’s approval ratings and/or current national or state-level polling are usually (but not always) slightly more bullish on Obama’s prospects than are models like Hibbs’ that are based solely on the fundamentals.  That suggests to me that that the key question looking ahead is whether opinion polling and Obama’s approval ratings begin to change in ways that indicate that voters,  as they pay more attention to the election, will adjust their views closer to what some forecasters like Hibbs believe the economic fundamentals dictate.  Keep in mind, however, that based on economic fundamentals alone, it is not necessarily the case that Romney should be winning this election.  That assessment depends,  in part, on what fundamentals one includes, and across what time span. And, as my stockbroker I. B. Guessing always reminds me, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

(Note that  many political science forecasters will be unveiling their latest predictions at the 2012 APSA conference which meets in New Orleans next week. When those papers are available, I’ll try to update this post.)

Update 3:24 p.m.  Nate Cohn has an initial and somewhat skeptical reaction to the Colorado forecast I allude to above but again, I haven’t actually seen the specifics yet of their model so I’ll withhold comment for now.  Note that I mistyped their prediction of the two-party vote in my initial post – that’s been corrected.

The Ryan Pick: On, Wisconsin?

It’s been almost two weeks since Mitt Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, which provides enough time to take a first look at Ryan’s impact on the race so far.   In this vein, I think it is instructive to recall the pundits’ immediate assessment of the Ryan pick.  Needless to say, the reaction evinced a distinct partisan slant.  Romney supporters hailed the pick as Obama’s “worst nightmare”, a bold choice that offered voters a clear contrast  between the President’s unsustainable big spending, deficit-enhancing  policies versus a Romney-Ryan led return to fiscal prudence and economic growth. Moreover, by refocusing the campaign on how best to fix the economy, the Ryan pick shifted  the media narrative away from Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns and, not incidentally, put Wisconsin back in play. Obama’s backers, on the other hand,  described the Ryan pick as a stunningly bad choice , one that not only exposed Romney’s weak electoral hand but also refocused the campaign from a referendum on  Obama’s middling economic record to a debate over Ryan’s radical House-backed budget legislation, including politically controversial proposals to reform Medicare.

Anyone reading this punditry might wonder if they were describing the same man!  Clearly, however, partisan pundits on both sides indicated that the Ryan pick – if not a “game changer” – was surely consequential in terms of the race.  The divide was over whether it would help or hurt Romney.

There was a third possibility, of course, one that I proposed in a post written shortly after Romney’s pick was announced:  that it wouldn’t have much impact on the race at all.  As I wrote then: “There is always a tendency for the media, particularly in the news-starved period that is August, to overreact to these types of political events.   Pundits have been quick to analyze what the Ryan pick tells us about Romney’s campaign strategy, and to assert that this high risk-high reward type of pick is destined to shake up the race. But we should not let the sheer volume of media analyses blind us to a third potential outcome: that the pick will be largely inconsequential.   Romney, after all, still heads the Republican ticket and the economic fundamentals will still likely drive the decision for most voters.”

I based my prediction on the historical record.  To begin, polls suggest that for most people in previous election the VP pick did not influence their vote choice for the top of the ticket. Moreover, Harry Enten shows the median impact of the VP pick on a candidate’s polling status prior to the convention is about 4%.

Those figures, moreover, tell us nothing about how long that 4% bump lasts.  As you can see from Enten’s chart, three of the four biggest bumps came during losing efforts.  Even that celebrated “game changer” Sarah Palin likely had a minimal impact on the outcome of the 2008 race. Although exit polls indicate that McCain won, 56%-43% among the 60% of respondents that said the Palin pick was “a factor” in their vote, it was not enough to swing the election his way.

All this suggested to me that despite the projections of the partisan punditry, the Ryan pick would have little lasting impact on this campaign.  So far – with one potential caveat – I seem to be right.  Stanford political scientist Simon Jackman’s analysis of polling data suggests the race remains virtually unchanged, with Obama leading Romney by about 46%-45%, as indicated in this graph.

That’s consistent with Mark Blumenthal’s assessment at Pollster.com.

This is not to say the Ryan pick was without consequences, however.  To begin, it appears to have mobilized the Republican base which has responded by opening its collective pocketbooks and contributing to the Romney campaign. Perhaps of greater significance, it may have tightened the race in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.   As this Pollster.com chart shows, Romney has gained an average of about 3% in four Wisconsin polls of likely voters since the Ryan pick was announced, which narrows Obama’s lead there from about 5-6% to closer to 2-3%.

We can’t be sure,  of course, whether this polling bounce will last, but for now it makes Wisconsin almost a tossup.  If Romney were to win Wisconsin, and its 10 Electoral College votes, it provides him with a bit more flexibility in how to put together enough states to reach the 270 Electoral College vote threshold. Keep in mind, however, that states tend to move together; if Romney picks up the additional 2-3% needed to put him over the top in Wisconsin, he’s likely to do so in other battleground states as well.   So we shouldn’t fixate on Wisconsin as the key to Romney’s electoral fortunes.

At this point, then, I stand by my initial assessment: the Ryan pick will likely have at best a marginal impact on the 2012 presidential election.

Meanwhile, On Wisconsin!  (This one’s for you, Cason…..)

 

Why I Might Buy Maureen Dowd A Miller Lite

Dear Maureen,

(May I call you that?)  I understand that you probably don’t read my blog. You are a busy person, after all, with your column and all that goes with being a celebrity journalist (may I call you that?).   Your time is undoubtedly precious.  But do you read your own paper – the one that publishes your column?  Not the whole paper,  mind you, but maybe just the op-ed page.  You know, that section that publishes opinion pieces (like yours)?

I ask because a reader sent me a link to your August 11 New York Times column, titled “Likability Index”. In it, you discuss whether President Obama and Mitt Romney are truly likable people.   You claim that Obama is a lot more likable, at least when viewed from a distance, than is Mitt. This likability gap is important because,  you suggest, it will determine who wins the presidential election: “The big difference, the one that will probably decide this presidential race, is this: Barack Obama is able to convey an impression of likability to voters. Given how private he is, an enigma even to some who are close to him, it’s an incredible performance.”

Yes, Obama “can be thin-skinned and insecure at times, but he radiates self-sufficiency, such a clean, simple aesthetic that he could have been designed by Steve Jobs — Siri without the warmth.”  As for poor Mitt, well, here are your words: “Romney started out off-putting and now makes Willy Loman look like prom king. Obama is introverted and graceful; Romney is introverted and awkward.”  Ouch!

I realize you have some data to back up your claim of a likability gap; as you note, there’s extensive polling evidence indicating that Obama has “better numbers on honesty, trust and empathy” in addition to enjoying a sizable advantage in likability. Your conclusion?  “Once a candidate gains the advantage in ‘Who do you want to have a beer with?’ — even if he doesn’t drink beer — it’s very hard to reverse.”

Oh no! Not the beer test!  I thought I debunked the myth of the beer test in this post, when – drawing in part on research by three prominent political scientists – I argued that there was no strong relationship between the candidates’ relative likability and the outcome of the presidential election during the period 1952-2000.  I concluded: “The point here is one I’ve made before: presidential elections are driven by fundamentals – national conditions and candidates’ issue positions – far more than they are by the candidates’ personal qualities. Indeed, I don’t know of a single reputable presidential election forecast model that incorporates likability ratings.”  Clearly, however, you aren’t a regular reader of my blog.  But surely you read your own paper?   If so, you might have run across this piece on your paper’s very own opinion page written by one of those prominent political scientists, in which he argues “that a candidate’s likability is a relatively minor factor in deciding modern presidential elections.”

Once again, in case you missed it when it was published in the Times, here is the summary data in graphical form:

It shows that, historically, the candidate rated higher on the personal dimension did not always win the election.  Indeed, in 1996, Bill Clinton – the most negatively rated candidate of all during this period – trounced World War II veteran Bob Dole, while in 1980 voters soundly rejected Jimmy Carter despite his sterling personal qualities.

Of course, 2012 might be different.  Maybe, in a very close election, enough voters’ choices will turn on whether they prefer to have a beer with Mitt (non-alcoholic, of course) or the President to swing the election one way or another.  If that happens, here’s my promise to you Mo (may I call you that?):  I’m buying the next round.

Do you drink Miller Lite?

Sincerely,

Matt

(Yes, you can call me that.)

No, Partisan Polarization Is NOT The New Normal

In still another manifestation of a familiar media theme, a front page article in yesterday’s Washington Post proclaims: “Partisan polarization now presents a potentially insurmountable barrier to governing for whomever wins the White House in November.”  Drawing on results from a survey co-sponsored by the Kaiser Foundation, Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write, “Partisan polarization once was considered an affliction only of elected officials and political elites. Now it has gone mainstream. Citizens’ ties to their political parties are stronger than ever, and passions on issues are intensely felt.”

By now you should know why the survey evidence Balz and Cohen cite does not, in fact, prove that “polarization is the new normal”.  I have made this argument before, but as long as the national news media continue to present a misleading read of survey data, I’m going to persist in trying to knock the story down.

As with similar media claims regarding a deeply polarized electorate Balz and Cohen’s case rests on two sets of survey data: longitudinal polling results that indicate more people are calling themselves strong partisans, and cross-sectional data showing differences in how self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans respond to questions regarding a number of hot-button issues.  In both cases, however, the survey evidence is open to a different interpretation.  To see this, however, the reader would have to look at the actual survey data rather than simply relying on Balz and Cohen’s description of that data in the main article.  I suspect very few readers will take the time to do so.  So I’ll do it for them.

Let’s start with the longitudinal data. Balz and Cohen note that in a similar Kaiser study from 1998, “41 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats said they considered themselves “strong” partisans. In the new Post-Kaiser survey, those numbers have shot up to 65 and 62 percent, respectively.”  That’s true, but what they don’t say is that the overall number of self-professed Democrats, Republicans and Independents has remained remarkably stable in that period.

Democrat   Republican   Independent   Other/None   No opinion

8/5/12       34          25            34          4              3

6/3/07       36          27            29          4              3

8/18/98      30          27            30         12              1

In short, we don’t see Independents flocking to either party, which one might expect to be the case if the electorate was becoming more partisan. In fact, there may have been a slight increase in the number of independents during the last 14 years.  How, then, do we reconcile the growth in “strong” partisans with the overall stability in partisan identification?  The answer is one I’ve discussed before: what Balz and Cohen are documenting is a process of party sorting, not partisan polarization.  As research by Mo Fiorina, Sam Abrams and Jeremy Pope indicates, when ideology increasingly matches up with party labels – Republicans more uniformly conservative, and Democrats more liberal – it becomes easier for people to identify more strongly with a party label even if their own political views have not become more partisan.  That’s what Balz and Cohen are picking up in the survey data: voters are not more polarized – party labels are.

But what of the individual survey questions in the latest study that purport to show huge differences in how Republicans and Democrats respond to questions that address fundamental political issues, such as the role of government in our lives?  My answer is largely the same: rather than indicating growing partisan polarization, the results are instead measuring the process of party sorting.  For instance, as Balz and Cohen note, “One set of answers is particularly revealing: The number of Republicans who feel strongly that the government controls too much of daily life jumped 24 percentage points since the 1998 survey, to 63 percent. The number of Democrats strongly disagreeing with the assertion doubled.”

But here are the actual trends over time:

a. Government controls too much of our daily lives

——— Agree ———   ——- Disagree ——–   Neither     No

NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly    (vol.)   opinion

8/5/12    60       41         19      39       21         18          1        1

Dem     38       21         17      58       27         31          1        2

Ind     65       45         21      34       21         12          1        *

Rep     81       63         18      18       11          8          *        *

8/18/98   60       35         26      39       28         10          1        *

In 14 years, the proportion of registered voters who think government controls too much of our daily lives has not changed! The same stability holds for opinions regarding whether government or individuals should be primarily responsible for improving peoples’ standard of living:

Gov’t in Washington          Not gov’t

should do everything     responsibility, each

possible to improve     person  should take    Neither     No

the standard of living    care of themselves     (vol.)   opinion

8/5/12           52                      44               NA        4

Dem            76                      20               NA        4

Ind            47                      48               NA        4

Rep            26                      71               NA        3

9/1/02           56                      39                2        3

8/30/99          57                      38                4        1

8/18/98          51                      46                –        3

Rather than growing polarization, we see instead almost no change in public attitudes on these fundamental questions. Fine, you respond, but what about the partisan breakdown that Balz and Cohen cite? Surely that proves the public is deeply split along partisan lines.

Not necessarily.  Remember, I am not arguing that the views of Republicans and Democrats are identical – only that they are not deeply divided in a way that makes compromise impossible, as Balz and Cohen would have us believe.  Part of the problem in interpreting these results is that the survey questions are often worded in ways that make it difficult for respondents to provide nuanced answers.  Instead, they are typically told they must choose between one of two extreme positions.  So, for example, the results cited by Balz and Cohen regarding whether government controls too much of our lives are based on this survey question: “Do you personally agree or disagree with the following statement? Government controls too much of our daily lives.”  What answer do I give if I agree sometimes, and disagree other times, depending on the issue?  Yes, it’s possible for respondents to answer “neither”, but the agree/disagree format certainly doesn’t encourage a more nuanced response.

And so it goes with most of the questions on which Balz and Cohen rely to support their claim of a divided public. Consider question 17: “Would you say you favor a smaller federal government with fewer services, or larger federal government with many services?”  Again, the question wording practically begs for a split along partisan lines, even if Democrats and Republicans aren’t that far apart on their views regarding the proper role of government.  If forced to choose between the two answers, we shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans lean one way, and Democrats the other.  But this is not necessarily evidence of a deep divide along partisan lines.

At the same time, Balz and Cohen play down survey results that indicate Americans are becoming increasingly tolerant of opposing views, particularly on moral issues, than they were 14 years ago.  Consider the results to three questions that directly address tolerance on social values:

b. We should be more tolerant of people who choose to live according to their own moral standards even if we think they are wrong:

——— Agree ———   ——- Disagree ——–   Neither     No

NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly    (vol.)   opinion

8/5/12    75       44         31      23       11         12          1        1

Dem     80       54         27      18        8         10          1        1

Ind     75       46         29      23       12         11          *        2

Rep     68       29         38      30       13         17          1        1

9/17/00   71       37         35      26       14         12         NA        2

8/18/98   70       30         40      27       15         12          1        1

 

e. Americans are too tolerant and accepting of behaviors that in the past were considered immoral or wrong:

——— Agree ———   ——- Disagree ——–   Neither     No

NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly    (vol.)   opinion

8/5/12    61       38         23      36       17         19          1        2

Dem     53       29         24      44       18         26          *        3

Ind     57       34         23      40       20         20          1        2

Rep     77       55         22      20       12          9          *        2

9/17/00   70       43         28      28       16         12         NA        2

8/18/98   69       42         27      29       18         11          1        1

 

Finally: 4. Would you rather see religious and spiritual values have (more) influence in politics and public life than they do now, (less) influence, or about the same influence as they do now?

More influence   Less influence   About the same   No opinion

8/5/12         30               36               32             2

Dem          21               42               35             1

Ind          26               39               33             2

Rep          49               21               28             2

9/1/02*        44               21               33             2

8/18/98*       38               22               38             2

*2002 and 1998: Would you rather see religious and spiritual values have (greater /less) influence…

On all three questions, while there are partisan differences, in the aggregate the movement is toward more toleration of opposing views, and less willingness to see religion and spiritual issues injected into politics.  This is is not evidence of an electorate that is growing more culturally divided.

But what about those hot-button cultural wedge issues, such as abortion, that are so often cited as dividing Republicans and Democrats?  Balz and Cohen assert: “Divisions over religious and social issues are equally stark.”  Perhaps they are, but an equally important question is whether that division really matters to the outcome of the 2012 election. That is, how deeply rooted is the division on moral values?  In this regard, perhaps the most revealing data in the entire survey comes in response to question 3, which asks: “Other than the economy and jobs what will be the most important issue in your choice for president?”  In responding to this open-ended question, only 3% cite “morals/family values” and only 2% cite “social issues”.  Only 1% mention “abortion”, “gun control” or “gay marriage.”  Rather than so-called “values”, the most cited non-economic issue is “health care/Obamacare”, at 14%.  Fully 17% cite no non-economic issue at all.  When given the choice to identify which issues really matter, very few Americans care about the moral values that so many pundits cite as dividing Republicans and Democrats.

It is an article of faith among pundits and journalists that Americans are deeply divided along party lines.  To be sure, when it comes to politics, Republicans and Democrats are not “tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum”.  Instead they come down differently on host of issues.  But neither are they so deeply divided as to make compromise on these issues impossible.  And in this election cycle, the issues that matter are almost exclusively economic in nature; voters simply are not interested in debating so-called “moral values”.  And on these important matters, such as the role of government in the economy, surveys that purport to show deepening partisan polarization are instead, in my view, showing party sorting against the backdrop of polarized choices. In short, contrary to what Balz and Cohen write, there is little evidence that Americans have become more deeply polarized along partisan lines during the last 14 years.

Fareed Zakaria: You Didn’t Write This

As often happens with these cases, the initial plagiarism charge against Fareed Zakaria has prompted renewed scrutiny of his other work.  The latest charge – one that Zakaria is vigorously defending himself against – is that he used a quote without attribution in his 2008 best-selling book The Post-American World that actually came from an interview conducted by Clyde Prestowitz for his 2006 book Three Billion New Capitalists.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post announced on Monday that it will not run Zakaria’s columns this month.  Presumably the paper is reviewing Zakaria’s previous columns for other instances of plagiarism.  Five days ago, of course,  Time Magazine suspended Zakaria for a month after he admitted plagiarizing passages  from a Jill Lepore article on gun control that she wrote for the New Yorker magazine. Shortly after Time’s action, CNN – for which Zakaria hosts the cable news show Fareed Zakaria GPS Global Public Square – also suspended him indefinitely.   Zakaria issued a public apology for his actions regarding Lepore’s New Yorker article, saying: “Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”

However, Zakaria is defending himself against the latest charge that he lifted a quote from someone’s else’s interview and used it in his own book:  “As I write explicitly [in the book], this is not an academic work where everything has to be acknowledged and footnoted.”   He points out that because of the sheer number of such quotes, including citations for each one would “interrupt the flow for the reader.”

Predictably, Zakaria’s critics have used the plagiarism charge as an opportunity to go after previous instances of sloppy reporting and other journalistic missteps that fall short of plagiarism, including the unpardonable sin of giving the same commencement address at different schools. But the criticism doesn’t stop there; others view this incident as a prime opportunity to renew their criticism of his policy positions.

Look, I have no idea how Lepore’s passages ended up in Zakaria’s column, although I can think of more than one innocuous reason to explain it.  And I’ll leave it to others to debate the appropriate punishment for Zakaria’s sins, real and imagined.  But I confess that I feel a certain amount of empathy for him.  (Full disclosure:  Zakaria’s and my career paths overlapped at Harvard; I was transitioning from doctoral student to junior faculty there while he was finishing his Ph.D. But I never had him in a class and I do not know him well.)  That empathy is based on more than “old school ties”, however.  Instead, it comes from understanding how easy it is, when writing a daily blog based in part on information available on the internet for anyone to use at the touch of a keyboard, to find oneself in Zakaria’s predicament.  Indeed, the proliferation of news aggregators has made it easier to justify using other writers’ material without attribution.

I am not immune to this temptation.  Almost every day I post an 800-1,500 word comment that more often than not is based in part on someone else’s research and/or insights.  I work  without  an editor, and although I am careful to follow journalistic norms by citing other’s work (thanks to my year as a cub reporter for a daily paper, I have some journalistic training), I live in constant fear that I will have forgotten a link, or dropped a reference such as “As so-and-so said” in my blog post.  And once I hit the send button, it’s very hard to make corrections.   Fortunately, my posts don’t get nearly the same level of scrutiny as Zakaria’s.  That doesn’t absolve me of the responsibility of following standard journalistic practices, something I take very seriously.  But I would be a fool to pretend that slipups can’t happen.

Years ago, when I was set to publish my first book, I sent a draft of the manuscript to a well-known presidency scholar whose work had influenced mine to a considerable degree.   In short order he sent back an email that said (and I’m paraphrasing slightly), “Ahem, I don’t quite know how to say this but…” and here he pulled up a sentence from the beginning of one of my chapters, followed by a page number from one of his books.  When I followed his cue, I was shocked to find that my opening sentence was exactly the same as one from his book.  I had repeated it without using either quotation marks or even a citation to his work.  True, it was only one sentence, and I had cited his research in dozens of other places in my manuscript, but I was still mortified by my inexplicable error.  All I could think was that I had transcribed a passage from my notecard to the text improperly.  (To my students – yes, we used to do research using notecards.)  Needless to say, when the book was published, the sentence was in quotes and properly cited.  To this day I am grateful that I decided to send him the draft manuscript, and that he caught the error and notified me before the book went to press.

My point is this: I’m not trying to excuse Zakaria’s actions, nor condemn them.  But I’m in no rush to judge the man based on this one incident.