Monthly Archives: October 2012

Advice To Obama Supporters: Get An Effing Grip On Yourselves!

Once again, my best intentions have been dashed – DASHED! –  I tell you, by the demands of my day job.  I thoroughly intended to provide an in-depth post-debate analysis designed to both talk Obama supporters back off the ledge and to caution Romney’s true believers from engaging in a bout of irrational exuberance.  Instead, it’s pushing midnight and I only have time for a quick synopsis.  So let me start with this succinct advice to Obama supporters: GET A EFFING GRIP ON YOURSELVES!  (And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Really.)  Contrary to what the devotees worshiping in the Church of Obama have tweeted/blogged in the last 24 hours – e.g., “How is Obama’s closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight” – the race is not over.  Indeed, last night is not even a game changer – no more than the secret 47% tape, or the Bain ads (sorry Kevin Drum!)  doomed Romney.   Let me be clear: Romney clearly “won” the debate, however we measure these things – that much, I think is indisputable.  Even Democrats seem to acknowledge as much in the post-debate polls.  (It is also indisputable that many pundits/Obama supporters will disagree with me.)  But what impact does “winning” a presidential debate really have?  History suggests not much (as I meant to tell you before last night).  Here’s some evidence, courtesy of political scientists Chris Wezlien and Robert Erickson (but I could cite a lot more!):

Note that if we look at first debates that involve an incumbent dating back to 1992 (WARNING! N of 3!) the average loss for the incumbent in the post-first debate polls has been about 1.2%*.  Of course, that’s just the first poll – but across three debates (we still have two to go!), incumbents have lost on average about 1%.  So, given that historical record, what is the likely polling impact (notice I said polling –not vote change?) of last night’s debate?  Most of my colleagues are suggesting it will be minimal – for example, John Sides is betting that Romney is going to pick up a point or so based on last night’s performance. I think it will be closer to the 2.5%-3.5% range – but that won’t be entirely attributable to the debate (although pundits will attribute any polling gains by Romney in the next week to the debate).  Instead, I think Romney was poised to close the polling gap even if last night’s debate had not happened.

Look, I acknowledge that  I am either going to be the one guy who didn’t get it, or someone who looks impressively prescient (or stubborn) when this is all over, but I have not bought into the media-driven narrative that Obama has been pulling away in recent weeks.   In part this is because I tend to downplay swing-state polling in favor of relying on national tracking polls, in the belief that national tides will affect all states – swing and non-swing – somewhat evenly.  And the national tracking polls have shown this to be a closer race than have the swing state polls. But the bigger factor is that I’m  not yet ready to abandon the political science forecast models just because a bunch of cable guys (and some name-brand prognosticators [you know who I mean]) are convinced that recent polling indicates a drop in Romney’s win probability.  Yes, I know that the political science forecasts are predicting a range of outcomes – but as regular readers know, I tend to think the median prediction of the dozen or so models is pretty reliable.   In other words, debate or no debate, I think Romney was likely to close this polling gap as we got closer to the Election Day.  It is also worth noting, however, that those models, in the aggregate do NOT suggest that Romney will pull ahead.  Contrary to what many think, the economic fundamentals do not suggest Romney should win this race outright.

So, if I’m right (and all those other pundits are not) why is Romney behind in the polls by more than what the average of the forecast models suggest? In our regular “professor pundits” taping for today, my colleague Bert Johnson sought to explain the discrepancy in the national and swing-state polls by suggesting it reflects Romney’s decision to hold back a bit on advertising in the battleground states, in the belief that he who advertises last, advertises best.  The idea here – based on an interesting paper by a bunch of political scientists – is that the impact of political advertising on voters’ support has a very short shelf life.  So rather than spend money early on swing-state advertising – as Obama has been doing – the better strategy is to come in late with a dominant buying spree.  Of course, the fact that roughly 35% of voters will vote early makes this a risky strategy.  As does relying on a single finding based on a Texas gubernatorial race, I might add! (I should note that Bert isn’t claiming that this is what Romney is doing – only that it is a potential explanation for his willingness to let Obama take the early advertising lead in the swing states.)  I don’t claim to buy Bert’s explanation; I can think of a variety of reasons for why Romney’s swing-state polling hasn’t matched the forecasts as yet, ranging from oversampling of Democrats/slightly screwy likely voter screens to the usual tendency of many voters to answer polls at this point in the election in terms of which candidate is getting the best of current media coverage rather than based on who they will vote for when they are in the polling booth.  (For what it is worth, I reject the conservative pundits’ claim that pollsters are in the tank for Obama.)

The bottom line is I’m sticking by my fundamentals-based methodology that has stood me well in the past. (Ok, maybe not as well as I’d like to think – my forecasts have missed two of the last six elections!  Which reminds me: I owe you my traditional forecast. It’s coming, day job permitting)  And that methodology says this race was going to tighten no matter what happened last night (barring, of course, a disastrous performance by Mitt.)  The fact that Mitt won the debate will likely focus attention on the fundamentals in a way that might accelerate what was going to happen anyway.

Yes, Romney won the debate last night. But no, Obama did not lose the election as a result, and Romney did not win it. There are two more presidential debates to go, for Pete’s sake. (True, they will be even less influential.)

That’s my story, and I’m sticking by it. Tomorrow (day job permitting) I will explain why Obama lost the debate.  In my view, it has far less to do with him, and far more with the institutional constraints that affect all incumbent presidents in their first debate.

*In my initial late night posting, my math skills departed completely and I reported incorrect post-debates averages. These have been corrected (I hope!)

Live Blogging Tonight’s Presidential Debate

We are on. I’m told there’s a good political crowd tonight at Middlebury’s Karl Rove Crossroads cafe, but I’ve decided to stay in familiar territory, in walking distance of the scotch.   We’ll be watching Wolf and the gang on CNN.  Please join in!

Unfortunately, CNN is running one of those asinine “fact checking” enterprises tonight. As I’ve blogged about before, many (most?) political assertions are not the type that a fact-checker can unambiguously label as “true” or “false” – usually they occupy a grey area of partial truths.

They’ll also have the “focus” group of “undecideds” that will be quizzed after the debate to see who “won.”  Keep in mind that verdicts regarding who “won” are only tangentially linked to whether the outcome will change votes.  So there are really two contests going  on tonight – the debate, and then how the media scores the debate.  I was pleased to see that most of the pundits in the runup to tonight were downplaying the likely impact of this debate.  That persuades me that political science research is having some impact!

First false assertion of the night comes from David Gergen – “we all know that style matters.”  Uh, no we don’t know that at least in terms of changing votes!  Also keep in mind that less than half of those who will vote this year are likely to be paying attention to this debate.   Moreover those who are watching are already likely to have their minds made up – one determinative of who “wins” depends on the composition of the viewing audience.  If more Democrats tune in, Obama will “win” this debate. If more Republicans, the victory goes to Romney -no matter what each of them say.

Anna Esten chimes in to say there’s a full house at the Karl Rove Crossroads cafe —-here’s a shout-out to them, and I hope they send their comments in.  We are looking for a record turnout tonight.  Here’s what I want to see:  Mitt:  “Can I call you Barack?”  Barack: “No.”

I don’t expect any game change.  I don’t expect Mitt to be very loquacious but he will stay on message.   And they are on.  Remember, both sides have been trying to lower expectations here.  If they are to be believed, they both are horrible debaters.

Look for Obama to remind voters of how bad things were, and to stress that things are improving. Mitt will disagree. Remember, the main audience tonight are swing state voters.   Hence the quick reference to the automotive industry.  “Economic patriotism” – cue symbolism.  Mitt – first two state references: Ohio, Colorado.  Mitt comes out on message.  For Small business.  Against “trickle down government”.

This is actually starting out as a substantive debate, thanks to Lehrer forcing Obama to respond directly to Romney.  Biggest objective of Mitt is to show that he’s not a guy protecting the rich.  Didn’t take him long to parrot Joe’s “crushing middle class” phrase!

Mitt coming out aggressively here – just as he did during the primary races. Let see if Obama reminds people of his tax cuts.  (Fascinating to see how surrogates on both sides are already chiming in on twitter.)  Obama will not let Mitt off on the charge that he has to raise taxes to meet his spending plans.  Mitt just compared the President to one of his five boys.  How does that play?  I tell you what is playing well – references to small business!

Is it me, or do I see Obama’s comments playing better among women?

The first Donald Trump reference – a zinger!

(here’s dedication – Jeff Cason tuning in at 3 a.m. in Italy – that’s what our political science department is all about!)

As he did during the primaries, Mitt make a debating rules claim.   “It my turn”.  That recitation of poor growth was Mitt’s strongest point of the night to date.

Several of you have remarked that Mitt is looking at Lehrer, or the President, but not the camera.  I don’t think it matters a bit.

Mitt would cut Big Bird and Obamacare.  Ouch!  Again, it seems to  me that women are responding more positively to Obama than are men.  No surprise, given the size of the gender gap, but it seems impervious to whatever either candidate is saying.  Further evidence that these debates are changing minds.

I was wondering if Obama would dredge up that debate moment when no Republicans would trade spending cuts for smaller tax hikes.

Word just came that the WiFi has crashed in the Karl Rove Crossroads cafe – we need Karl to donate more money.  Mitt is scoring heavily here on his promise not to raise taxes and go down “the paht of Spain.”   Obama is on potentially  dangerous ground here – he’ll need to focus on corporate taxes. Each candidate is doing a good job staying on their familar themese – Obama here focusing on outsourcing.

First mention of Solyndra – Ouch!  Mitt scored with women!  He’s rolling, and Jim has lost control.  Mitt has certainly prepped for this – and he is staring the President down.

I think Mitt did pretty well on the budget deficit reduction round.

Round Three: Entitlements.

(Twitterverse is delivering a blow by blow account of this, but they are describing alternative universes.  Fascinating to see…..the one saving grace is most people are paying no attention to the twits.)   Look for both sides to stay away from social security, at least that portion affecting seniors.

Here comes the Medicare cuts charge – it’s not clear that Romney’s Medicare plan cuts any less.  (Obama looking down a lot recently.  He seems very reserved – playing it cautious?)

Obama smartly focuses on “near elderly” in discussing Medicare.  and he smartly brings in the Ryan plan, and once again characterizes Mitt’s plan to reform Medicare as a voucher program.  It’s hard for Mitt to win on this issue.  It’s too easy to scare voters. Remember, this is crucial for Florida voters. Note that Bush’s effort to peddle a version of the Romney plan went nowhere.  I just don’t think this plays well for Mitt.  Note that Mitt is trying to disassociate his plan from his own VP candidate Ryan.  Note that all Obama has to do here is criticize Mitt’s plan – he doesn’t have to indicate how he will save Medicare.   Mitt has to push him on this.

Regulation.  Mitt turning the tables on his own banking cronies – he’s trying to tie Obama to “banks too big to fail” – this is an effective tact to take.  Dodd-Frank is not particularly well liked.  Interesting here that Obama’s talking points refer to what Mitt said in “the past” as opposed to what Mitt is saying tonight.  Question: can Mitt change that perception based on tonight’s debate?  Doubtful…

Mitt’s points – to be effective – require the viewer to listen to what he is saying. Obama is speaking in broader talking points that he has used effectively on the campaign, rather than engaging directly with what Romney is saying.


Mitt playing much better here with men – women typically are stronger supporters of programs – like Obamacare – designed to protect the less vulnerable.  Obama defends the most popular portions of Obamacare – covering preexisting conditions.  Women are liking this – men not so much.

Lehrer has lost control.   Let’s see how Mitt defends Romneycare….Ooh, first Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid reference….and a spirited effort to differentiate Romneycare from Obamacare……Let’s see if it sells.  it won’t if Obama has his way.  Once again the gender gap appears – see my Economist post!  Classic illustration of what causes the gap – it’s not what pundits have us believe.

Men actually  going negative on Obama when he castigates Romney for pushing to repeal health care.

I think the debate about the “unelected board” has probably run its course.   Or maybe not.  Mitt persists.  Obama won’t look at him. The longer he has to defend the board, the worse it is.  He needs to go on the offensive here.  and he does by trying to cast doubt on all of Mitt’s plans.  He’s got “secret plans” – wow, men simply hate this line of attack by Obama, women do not.  Mitt tries to cast his “secrecy” as a willingness to compromise to get things done.  Mitt’s defense of federalism plays well with men.

Obama better on this segment than on the deficit, but Mitt scored as well.


this might be interesting.  Obama is going to embrace free enterprise, and focus on that part of government – education – that people like.  Again, see the gender difference in discussion of teachers, education.  but Mitt is going to do well here. At least with men.

Cue Captain Kirk – Mitt’s quoting the Constitution, but he remembers the words!   He’s doing well here to present a kinder, softer image.  Mitt was ready for this debate. The President looks a bit fatigued.

Paul Ryan just tweeted an attack on the President’s health board.

Somewhere Gwen Ifill is fuming – Lehrer is not running this show.

Romney zinger (you’re not entitled to your own facts) doesn’t fly.  But overall, if we were scoring this debate in high school terms, Mitt would be winning on the basis of the specificity of his answers, energy level, responding directly to Obama’s punches.  But – we don’t score presidential debates this way.  it will be interesting to see how the media spins this in the debate aftermath.

But, give Mitt credit – he did what he had to do tonight.  I expect the President will rebound next time.  He needs to be better prepared – hard to do that when you are President, however.

Mitt strikes a blow for bipartisanship – where did I hear that previously?  You know – bringing change to Washington?  Thinking….thinking…..oh that’s right.  If only it was that easy.


Obama has to nail this – he had all the time to practice.  And he goes right to the automotive industry, outsourcing of jobs…Wow, is he winging this?  Wow, a lame close.  He looks exhausted.  Wonder if he fell prey to Reagan’s 1984 debate prep disease and overprepared.  Not a strong close.

Let’s see what Mitt does.  He’s looking at the camera now.  He’s trying to make this both a referendum and a choice.  The President is not pleased with what Mitt is saying. A solid close for Mitt, but not overwhelming.   Time to trot out the spouses!

Ohh – a “scientific” poll!  Wolf is excited!  (Of course, it’s “weird science”)

The Romneys will not leave the stage!

Ok, how is this playing on other networks.  Wolf is giving this night to Mitt…..and so are the other pundits on CNN.  Gergen salivating over Mitt’s performance.  “I had not expected this.”  He blames it on Obama not being used to people talking back to him….Rumor has it that Democrats have abandoned the “spin room”.  Even Carville is giving this to Obama – says he gave the impression that this whole thing was a lot of trouble.

It has to be tough to prepare for a debate.  But already Obama surrogates are beginning to blame Lehrer for allowing Romney to bully the President.  Uh oh!  There’s trouble in River City! Stephanie Cutter is the one attacking Lehrer.  You know your candidate did poorly when you blame the moderator! I would point out that the President actually got more speaking time.

A couple of points: I was not surprised that Romney did well tonight – as I told my students, Romney is an underappreciated debater.  He enters with a game plan, and he sticks to it.  I was surprised that Obama’s energy level was as low as it was.  A second point: this is a reminder that it is harder for an incumbent in some respects because he has to defend a record, while Romney has the advantage of going on the attack.  Third point: don’t confuse judgments regarding who won as an indication of how voters will react.  Most voters likely didn’t watch this debate.  This means the media spin is in some respects more important than how the participants actually did tonight.

But Wolf, citing his years of experience, is making the case that Romney, by challenging the President, will move the polls in his direction.  Bold words by the Wolfster…..

Meanwhile, Gergen says is Mitt had lost this, the race would have been over.  Instead, we are now in a horse race.

By the way, great participation tonight.  We nearly broke the debt debate record.   But this makes me very worried for Election Night at the Karl Rove Crossroads Cafe – I may have to ban social networking that night to save the WiFi feed.

I haven’t seen this yet, but apparently a CBS KN instant reaction poll is calling this as a “Big win for Romney. By 46-22 say think won, 56% have better opinion of Romney, Romney cares up from 30 to 63.”  I haven’t seen the polls internal, so take this for what you will…

Bottom line: historically, polls do not move numbers very much.  I don’t expect this to be any different, despite near consensus that Romney “won” tonight.  But, Romney did what he had to do, given the limits of any single debate to make any difference.  And, potentially in a very close election (which is what our forecast models are predicting) every bit helps.

That’s it for tonight.  Time to break out the scotch.  I’ll be on with a post-mortem/media spin roundup tomorrow.  Expect the media to overreact to this and suggest the race has fundamentally changed….. .

UPDATE:  CNN did their own focus poll, which also showed Romney winning comfortably: “BREAKING: Results of CNN-ORC Post-Debate flash poll. Who won the debate: Romney 67%, Obama 25%. +_ 4%”   Again, I don’t know the composition of the sample, but it is certainly more media fodder.  It will be interesting just how badly the media spins this for Obama.




About That Gender Gap…..

I have a post up today at the Economist’s Democracy in American website discussing the conventional wisdom regarding the source of the sizable gender gap in the presidential race.  In brief, I take issue with the argument that women’s greater support for Obama can be traced to differences between the two candidates, and their parties, on the so-called women’s issues, including equal pay, domestic violence, contraception availability and abortion.  As you know, the partisan differences on these issues have been magnified in recent weeks by highly publicized comments from Romney’s fellow Republicans, most notably Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s statement regarding how women’s bodies respond to “legitimate rape” and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s earlier characterization of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of insurance coverage for contraception, as a “slut”.

Given the negative public backlash engendered by these comments, it is not surprising that Democrats tried to capitalize by inviting Fluke to speak at the Democratic Convention, along with several other high-profile women, including Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the legislation Democrats pushed through Congress that required women to earn equal pay for equal work; Nancy Keenan, head of the abortion rights group NARAL; television star Eva Longoria; President Kennedy’s daughter and longtime Democratic icon Caroline Kennedy; and, not least, First Lady Michelle Obama, who delivered the capstone speech on the convention’s second night.

Collectively, this parade of speakers sought to bolster Obama’s standing among women by portraying Romney and his fellow Republicans’ as conducting a “war on women”. Romney, of course, had already played his own gender card by inviting a corresponding group of high-profile women to speak at the Republican National Convention, held a few days before the DNC.  The speakers’ list included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, and Mitt’s wife Ann Romney, who sought to portray her husband in softer, kinder terms, presumably to better appeal to women voters. .

Given what political scientists know regarding the origins of the gender gap, however, it is not immediately obvious why either party thought their particular roster of women speakers, and the issues they highlighted, would shift the gap in either direction. As I argue in the Economist post, there is evidence suggesting that the gender gap is driven more by men leaving the Democratic Party than by women abandoning the Republicans.  Moreover, the source of that gap is primarily women’s differing views regarding how parties treat the most vulnerable in society – the aged, poor, young and sick – as well as their greater opposition to the use of force.

Meanwhile, if I get a chance, I’ll post something on the debate in the next couple of hours,  as prelude to live blogging tonight.


Forecasting the Election: It’s No Time To Go Wobbly

Time (and administrative duties) permitting, I’ll  be up with my traditional election forecast post later this week, complete with an explanation of my methodology, as it were.  In the meantime, just to get the conversation going, here are the latest political science forecasts, (courtesy of Michael Lewis-Beck, whose two forecast models are included.)   These will be published in a forthcoming issue of PS (a political science journal), and they were also discussed a couple days ago in this Washington Post article by Dan Balz.

I’ll discuss these models in some detail in future posts, but there are a couple of points I want to make now.  To begin, at first glance it appears that political scientists are rendering a split decision. Six models predict that Obama will win, but five say Romney will be the victor.  However, once you factor in the confidence interval surrounding these predictions, three of the forecasts are really indicating that this election is too close to call.  I talked about this before in a previous post, but it bears repeating: it’s quite possible that some of these models will be “right” in terms of predicting Obama’s share of the two-party vote within a specified margin of error, even if they get the “winner” wrong.  So, for example, if Obama wins 49.5% of the two-party vote and loses the election, a forecast that has him taking 50.6% of the vote is nonetheless considered an accurate forecast.

My second point is that most of these forecasts are predicting that this is will be a very close election.  However, as more than one of you has indicated in emails and comments, recent polling data suggests that Obama is pulling away in this race, both in national tracking polls and in swing-state polls. Given these polls, some well-known pundits are suggesting the election is essentially over. As evidence, they cite Obama’s double-digit lead in key swing states like Ohio. Based on these polls, more than one of you has asked me when I will acknowledge that the political science models suggesting this will be a close race are wrong.

To quote the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “This is no time to go wobbly.”  I have no doubt that the media coverage of Romney’s 47% comments may have contributed to a temporary bump in Obama’s support. But if the political science models are to be believed, the impact of Romney’s secretly-recorded comments will recede, and the fundamentals on which the forecast models are based will, in the end, largely determine the outcome of this race. Current polling notwithstanding, this suggests the race will tighten as we head into the final six weeks of this campaign. So, is the race over, as some pundits suggest?  Or will the race tighten as the impact of the “47%” comments recede? I’m putting my money on the political scientists.  Obama’s current polling lead notwithstanding, I’m betting the race will tighten.

I’ve carved some time out tomorrow night to live blog the first debate.  I’ll be up with a post earlier in the day before the debate to provide some historical context regarding previous presidential debates, but I hope you’ll join in to the live blog.