Thursday, November 1, 2012

Good Use of an Endorsement

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama today, citing the issue of climate change.

How many votes is that worth to Obama? Well, we have here the mayor of the nation's largest city. On top of that, he's an independent (of sorts), and has even been a Republican, so that makes it newsy. Also, his issue preferences are very popular among a very noisy segment of the press, so it's apt to be amplified quite a bit (not to mention the whole Bloomberg News thing).

So add up all that, and how many votes will it affect? Counting his own?

Yeah.

Look, endorsements aren't apt to matter very much in general elections. I was going to do a post on this back when the Des Moines Register went from Mitt Romney recently. The logic of it is pretty straightforward; you just need to follow the causal chain on endorsements. How many people are going to even hear about the endorsement? Of those, how many support the endorser? Of those, how many are actually undecided voters? Of course, the intersection of those three groups (pay enough attention to the new to hear about the endorsement, like the endorser, undecided voter) is tiny -- remember, most true undecided voters in presidential general elections don't pay all that much attention to politics.

However, that doesn't mean that Bloomberg is wasting his time! By linking his endorsement to a specific issue -- climate -- he does two things. First, he gives a pretty effective issue advertisement on the subject; Bloomberg would likely be able to get the cameras on him at any rate right now, but doing it in the context of a presidential endorsement is more effective than simply repeating what he's said in the past on the issue.

Second, he's essentially lobbying the president on this issue. Remember, votes don't speak for themselves; politicians must interpret what votes mean. In that, they tend to interpret through their own experiences on the campaign trail; that is, if they've been talking about an issue a lot, they tend to believe that those who voted them must have endorsed that position. Most of us can't do much about that, although perhaps more than we think -- volunteer for a campaign, or if you have the means donate money, and you'll get at least someone's attention. But if you have a very large megaphone, you can do more, and that's what Bloomberg is accomplishing here. Barack Obama probably knows that Bloomberg isn't bringing any votes, but the next time he's tempted to think that no one ever care enough to actually vote for Democrats because of climate, he'll know for sure that at least one prominent supporter did so.

(Note: I took a break from writing this to find that Ezra Klein was tweeting up a storm with the same idea. If it becomes a post, I'll go back and link to it).

Now, will Bloomberg's endorsement change the politics of climate? Of course not. It's one act. Nor will Sandy change everything...it doesn't work like that. Some of the opposition to action on climate is partisan, and there's nothing that anyone outside the GOP can do about that; some of it is interest-based, and that's not going away. But if you happen to be Mike Bloomberg and you're planning to endorse, this is almost certainly the way to get the most bang for your buck.

I'd say one other thing about it. Obama's record on climate hasn't been one that particularly impressed environmentalists. It is, however, clearly better than where Romney and the Republicans are from their perspective. Bloomberg's choice demonstrates the value of signing up, as opposed to walking away. Which was going to give him a larger voice on these issues in a second Obama term: making this endorsement now, or opting to sit on his hands (or to support the Green candidate)? I think it's almost certain that it's the former, not the latter. The truth is that even if you're Mike Bloomberg, you're probably more influential if you're on the president's team than if you're an outsider. And that probably only gets amplified if you have a much smaller megaphone.

21 comments:

  1. Your last point is the most salient.

    at this point, it is momentum and showing you are backing a winner. Bloomberg does both. Well played, sir. Well played.

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    1. But just remember, momentum is a myth.

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    2. Momentum is a myth when the numbers show that you don't have it.

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  2. Bloomberg may get a certain kind of managerial-state liberal excited, but he's also alienated a number of constituencies by his high profile advocacy of gun control, attempted frisking of every minority ten times per day and the ever-popular War on Baby Formula... with everyone else just laughing at the Big Gulp Prohibition. Among voters who actually care, this won’t help Obama.

    Regarding Sandy, she wasn't destructive because of global warming (it wasn’t even a very strong storm), but because of a lack of preparedness. Where I live in New England, we've experienced much more powerful hurricanes with less destruction. If Bloomberg really thinks this is going to become a routine event for NYC, then he should be made to explain what measures he is planning to prevent future destruction.

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    1. Couves, you say: (it wasn’t even a very strong storm)

      No. Sandy was huge.

      What is making Hurricane Sandy so devastating?
      First and foremost is the sheer size of the storm. As it approached the United States’ eastern seaboard on Monday, hurricane-force winds (more than 118.5 kilometres per hour) extended some 280 kilometres from the centre of the storm, peaking around 145 kilometres per hour. Tropical-storm winds registering above 63 kilometres per hour extended outwards for up to 780 kilometres.

      Source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hurricane-sandy-spins-up-climate-discussion

      And the destruction of flooding (which cause the most damage in a storm like this; there's a lot of underground infrastructure in Eastern cities) will increase as sea levels rise due to climate change.

      Bigger storms, more flooding in some areas, record-setting drought in others.

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    2. zic, what you are saying is that the hurricane was physically large, which has exactly nothing to do with how strong it was in terms of wind speed or flooding potential. Sandy made landfall as a category 1 hurricane, which is the weakest rating.

      The fact that Sandy was large explains why it affected so many people in such a wide area, but it doesn't mean that it was any more destructive in those areas than any other category 1 storm would have been.

      Will hurricanes become more numerous or stronger due to global warming? I don't know. The precise effects of climate change on weather patterns is very uncertain. But as I said, if Bloomberg really believes that, then we should expect him to start studying ways to protect his city (and perhaps ask him why he wasn't already).

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    3. zic, you've had a lot to say about women's issues before... Does it bother you that Bloomberg is trying to coerce new mothers into breast feeding?

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    4. No, Couves.

      I bothers me that so many folk make breast feeding a scandal and difficult to do in public because someone might expose a breast. A mother, feeding her child, should not have to deal with nasty comments from prudes.

      It bothers me that so many mothers have to return to work just weeks after giving birth and have such a difficult time continuing milk production.

      But my oldest son had colic -- an inability to digest the protein in cows milk, and got sick if I drank it. I also have a lot of concerns about soy products, it should be fermented (as real miso, tofu, and soy sauce are) to be safe to eat in more then small quantities. And cows-milk and soy are the basis for formulas.I breastfed my oldest until I weened him at 18 mos., never had a bottle. Did the same with #2, weened himself at 11 mos.

      I can understand that breast feeding is discomforting for some women for medical reasons; so there's a need for supplements. But human babies, in general, deserve human milk. I think there should be a market for human milk.

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    5. zic, just so I understand -- are you saying it's ok for Bloomberg to insert government into the Doctor-patient relationship when the patient is a mother who doesn't want to breastfeed?

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    6. Couves, you're slipping into mansplaining. Be careful there.

      Nursing is uncomfortable and frightening. It's easy to watch a bottle empty, and know your child is getting nourishment; with nursing, not so. I worried on it, and I grew up on a dairy farm, knew much about how lactation works. So the 'woman who doesn't want to breastfeed' is complicated; not necessarily a 'doesn't want' but fears 'not succeeding,' too. There are tremendous social pressures on breast feeding mothers (work, modesty, outright approbation) and not nearly enough support.

      But it's good to make a nanny-state issue of it; amusing, actually. And good to point out he's slipping government between new mothers and the formula makers looking for markets.

      And as I said, for women who cannot or really don't want, I'd encourage some sort of market for human milk; there are also costs in terms of health, more infection, increased opportunity for antibiotic resistance, and economics of purchasing formula to consider.

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    7. Zic, I don’t think any woman should be hectored or bullied for the health decisions she makes. You or I may not agree with the choice, but it’s frankly none of our business. The same goes for Mr. Bloomberg.

      Manslaining, huh?

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    8. Couves:
      http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2012/pr013-12.shtml

      This is the press release announcing the program. It's an effort to help hospital personnel encourage breast feeding. Its from the health dept. in NYC, not a law, signed by the mayor, though he's supporting the initiative. No woman would be denied formula if she wants it. But it wouldn't be handed out like halloween candy, either.

      But here's the thing: the first week of breast feeding is the most crucial to determining success, and much of what needs to happen is after the mother and baby have left the hospital, because a mother's milk usually doesn't come in until day 4, and hospital stays are typically only one or two days long. Pain from nursing, a baby that's losing weight (this is normal), and the feelings of failure are extremely common for women; often leading them to give up and turn to those free cans of formula that used to be handed out.

      There are legitimate reasons why some women can't nurse; some just don't want to. But most want to do what's best, and end up not nursing as the path of least resistance in the face of little support from lactation consultants or extended family to guide them and in marketing from formula manufacturers.

      So I'm not seeing much of the 'hectoring and bullying' here, I'm seeing an honest attempt to provide more information and support and an attempt to not let the forumla makers foster unsuccessful breast feeding with freebies that are later on extremely expensive.

      I've a couple of friends who are lactation consultants, for years, they've tried to put a stop to the free-formula handouts after birth, saying that its the #1 cause of women deciding not to breastfeed in the face of the difficulties they encounter. From women I've known, exactly two did not want to nurse. But dozens failed, and mostly failed because they did not know where to turn for help, did not want to risk their children's lives.

      Yes, it's none of our business what any individual mother opts to do. But it is our business to set up those mothers who want to nurse for success; particularly because this has a huge impact on the child's future health.

      Again, the notion of 'nanny state' is really amusing here. What's more 'nanny' then breast feeding? But I have to ask: is your goal supporting new mothers or reinforcing your ideology? If it's the latter, that's also a form of hectoring and bullying.

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    9. Zic, my understanding of this regulation is that women must be lectured to before being allowed access to baby formula, which is held under lock and key and administered almost as if it were a drug. Understand, this talking-to will occur while the woman is still in a hospital bed. If they simply wanted to support a women's decision to breastfeed... great! But the strategy here is clearly to force it on women precisely when they are least able to resist. And for those women who still insist on making the choice you and Mr. Bloomberg disagree with, you’ll have the real possibility of imprinting a "bad mother" stigma on them.

      This should all just stay between a mother and her Doctor. If her Doctor chooses to give a woman extra information at the appropriate times, that's great. But to try to force specific medical decisions through bureaucratic decrees, red tape, coercion and guilt tripping is simply inexcusable.

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    10. @Couves, I think you overestimate the amount of time a doctor will spend with a new mother who is having trouble nursing. This isn't going to be a matter between a woman and her doctor.

      That said, I don't think it should become a matter between the city bureaucracy and mothers. I strongly support and encourage breastfeeding, but I'm not certain at what point support becomes coercive.

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    11. ModeratePoli, there is a flip side to your question: at what point does a lack of support become coercive?

      I think it's easy to look at the movement away from breast feeding as the norm -- it's been around since the 1950's. But during that time, families have grown smaller, the liklihood that a woman can get the kind of nursing support she needs within her family/social network has greatly diminished because there are fewer women to turn to for help, and in part, this is because the generation of grandmother's -- today's mothers -- were pretty actively discouraged.

      These things matter; they are coercive, also, but built into the background noise, so don't seem to matter. The notion that a hospital will not automatically hand out formula, will not feed formula to a screaming baby without permission from the mother, will offer more nursing support -- that's new thing here. It actually illuminates the coercion already built into the norm, a bias against mother's doing the most natural thing in the world -- nursing their babies.

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    12. @MP, that's a fair point, as is zic's point that women don't always get the support they need. What I meant was that the medical community is already accustomed to developing best practices that deal with their patients' needs in an appropriate manner. On the other hand, there will always be special interests, generally male-dominated, trying to control women's health care by laws and decrees. For example, a number of states require women to be lectured to prior to receiving abortions. Again, the intent behind such laws may be good, but the effect is more likely to be cruel and coercive when the specific choice of practice is taken out of the hands of health care providers.

      Health care from the ballot box just isn't cool with couves!

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  3. Why does the media take one comment of the endorsement and decide climate change was the most important issue to Bloomberg's endorsement. He mentioned several key issues that he agreed with Obama on and disagreed with Romney. Climate change was just one of them.

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  4. zic, what you are saying is that the hurricane was physically large, which has exactly nothing to do with how strong it was in terms of wind speed or flooding potential.
    Couves: dump thousands of gallons of extra water on a square mile and you'll have puddles and runoffs. Dump millions of gallons of extra water on a hundred square miles and you'll have flooding. Size matters.
    Same applies at sea: dump lots of waters in a small area and sea level will temporarily rise in a small area before equilibrium is established. Scale this up and the sea level can't stabilize anything like so quickly. Size matters.

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    1. Trevor, you're right about storm surge being worse for a large storm, but not for the reasons you mention:

      http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/surge_details.asp

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  5. @Couves (in re: 3:30 comment): your approach presumes that we're starting from a neutral position. The problem is that there's already a huge organized interest stepping in between the woman and her doctor -- the formula companies that -- what did you say? -- take advantage of the period when a new mother is "least able to resist." Offering women training in nursing at the same time as they're having lots of stuff coming at them pushing the message: "don't even bother trying! look here's free stuff that won't hurt you and will stabilize your baby's feeding patterns earlier and keep her from any initial loss of weight and that someone else can prepare without you and if it's doctors and nurses giving it to you in a hospital, it must be what most people do and should do" -- at the same time telling them "we will help you learn how to nurse. you don't have to use formula, even though it's very much the default, and even though breastfeeding is uncommon outside the upper middle classes. we will help you keep going even though people will stare at you in contempt if your baby gets hungry more often for smaller meals, which will happen if you breastfeed, and even though people will say nasty and obscene things if you feed your baby in public whether they can see any of your breast or not" -- that's not coercive. If we were coming from a different place, where women weren't aware of the existence of formula, of possible alternatives to breastfeeding, it might well be coercive to keep them that way. But we're really, really not coming from that point. At all. There is no woman there who does not know she can ask about formula. But there are lots of women who feel ashamed that they don't somehow instinctively know how to feed the raw unresponsive crying mass of still-bloody flesh that is a newborn baby. Letting them know that no one knows how to do this without any help and look here is some help in case you do want to -- is providing a service, not imposing one option uniformly.

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    1. Anon -- Thanks for the feedback. As I said, I think women should get appropriate support and in many cases they probably don't get enough.

      Do baby formula companies really teach breastfeeding at hospitals? What a joke! I wouldn't want to go to a hospital that allowed this, OR a hospital that followed Board of Health directives to lecture women after they've chosen to use infant formula for their child.

      As a country, I think we're loosing respect for the individual -- everyone has some agenda they're eager to impose on someone else.

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