Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Senate Rules Fight Coming?

Greg Sargent has an important post up this afternoon about the possibility of a strong drive for filibuster reform if, as the polls right now are indicating, we get a status quo election: Barack Obama is re-elected with the Democrats holding the Senate and Republicans keeping their House majority. Greg reports that nine Democratic candidates who are winning or in tossup races are pledging to support Jeff Merkley, who has been pushing Senate reform for a while now.

As I've said before, Senate reform is most likely after a party enjoying unified government is thwarted by the filibuster for some time. When the Senate first flips, the new majority usually includes quite a few Senators who have taken strong pro-filibuster stands only recently. Not only would it be politically embarrassing for them to immediately switch, but the truth is that after defending it for enough years, most Senators will come to believe that it is necessary. It takes a while for veteran Senators to change their minds. And if the Senate or the White House flips, then the momentum for change should be entirely lost; if a veto-proof majority or a deal is needed, then the filibuster isn't a major obstacle. Of course, the second part of that is that if the House and Senate are split, then the filibuster isn't very important on legislation.

What all this means is that a status quo election should increase the pressure for reform, but particularly for nominations (where the Republican House would be irrelevant). Since in my view the most pressing need is for executive branch nomination reform, I'd be glad to see that happen! Reform is also more likely if Democrats pick up seats -- the point of maximum frustration should be when a party has a clear majority, but falls short of 60, probably by enough that easy deals to pick off a couple of moderates won't help. Of course, a larger caucus would also increase Democratic confidence that that their majority will last after 2016, reducing the risk they'll be mostly making things easier for a future Republican president.

I continue to be not particularly impressed with Merkley's particular menu of reforms, but I do think that some change would be a good idea. If we do have a status quo election, I'll be no doubt blogging quite a bit about it soon after.

Dogs, Not Barking

Time for a campaign-oriented version of things that, surprisingly, haven't happened:

1. Crazy GOP rally audiences. Oh, I'm sure there have been some, but it hasn't as far as I know been a story, the way it was during fall 2008 and during the Republican debates this year.

2. Minimum wage. Wasn't that going to be a thing? I mean, as an issue for the Democrats. It sure hasn't been, certainly in the presidential race, and as far as I know in Congressional elections either.

3. I think I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth mentioning again: where are all the citizen opposition research coups? It was a major thing in the last two or three cycles, but unless I'm just way behind in reading about Senate and House races, it's pretty much dropped out this time around. Seems to me that there are fewer citizen videos this cycle, too.

4. I give up: there really do seem now to be more liberals pushing for some Fairness-Doctrine-like policy than there are Republicans convinced that there's a secret plot to get rid of it. Not that there's any chance at all that Dems are going to try to re-instate the FD after all; not going to happen. But it's increasingly difficult to laugh at conservatives for panic about it. So this time, it's the end of FD panic among conservatives that's the dog, not barking.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Dan Rather, 81. From when broadcast network anchors were a big, big deal; and then, from when they weren't.

Some good stuff:

1. John Sides (with Lynn Vavreck) looks at undecided voters again; again, their conclusion is basically that late-deciding voters shouldn't tip the results very much, although this time they suggest undecideds might slightly break for the president.

2. More on insider information from Henry Farrell.

3. Nate Silver, or mathematics, or something like that has been under attack; it produced some useful posts (including the one above); here also is Brendan Nyhan with a nice column making the key point that, not to be insulting or anything, Silver isn't anything special. That is: there's no reason to go after Silver in particular, and not the other people doing basically the same thing. I like Silver a lot, but that's exactly right. Ezra Klein jumps in, too, with an optimistic post. A quick point: Silver's value added, to me, isn't his poll aggregation (which is in my view good, but there are other good ones out there) or his forecast model (it's fine, but again there are other comparable ones). His value added is that he consistently pumps out lengthy, interesting posts on interesting topics. Sometimes polling, sometimes not; sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't -- but he's consistently worth reading. I actually do think there are some people who mistakenly have treated him as a wizard; I don't think his detractors made that up. But so what? He's good anyway.

4. And I didn't do an "elsewhere" post yesterday, but I did one over at Greg's place about ways in which the polls could be wrong. Simon Jackman has a very nice post that actually goes nicely with what I was talking about; he writes about how to model those possible errors, and what including them should do to our confidence in final polling averages.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Inside Outside (Where Have I Been?)

Paul Krugman channels Bill James at his best in explaining why "outside" knowledge sometimes trumps "inside" knowledge:

But Martin’s tweet also reveals a broader issue in reporting, which I’ve commented on before, I think (no time to search): the unhealthy cult of the inside scoop.

A lot of political journalism, and even reporting on policy issues, is dominated by the search for the “secret sauce”, as Martin puts it: the insider who knows What’s Really Going On. Background interviews with top officials are regarded as gold, and the desire to get those interviews often induces reporters to spin on demand.

But such inside scoops are rarely — I won’t say never, but rarely — worth a thing. My experience has been that careful analysis of publicly available information almost always trumps the insider approach.
It's very good; read, as they say, the whole thing.

Bill James once talked about what it was like when he became established enough that he started having access to inside information. What he said -- and I think this is exactly correct -- was that the best way to think about inside information was in terms of a temporal lag. It's not that insiders know stuff that outsiders will never learn; it's that they sometimes hear things before they are made public.

Regulars will also remember that one of my all-time favorite things about this is the old McLaughlin Group self-description; the show would give us "inside opinions and forecasts" -- not smart opinions or accurate forecasts, but inside ones.

Now, the thing is that it is valuable for outsiders to hear "inside opinions and forecasts." And inside information, too. To take one of Krugman's examples: knowing what Bush Administration officials thought about Iraq in 2002 was a much better indicator of what was going to happen than actually knowing about, say, Iraq's various weapons programs. Good reporting would have told us both, making clear both what was accurate about the world in general and what the Bush Administration believed.

The trick is balancing the two; the trick is to reject the notion that there's something special or inherently more accurate about what insiders know, even while it's very useful for us to learn what those insiders are thinking. That's not easy. But it's essentially impossible if you mistakenly attribute mystical qualities to insiders, incorrectly treating their insider knowledge as inherently more accurate. I've always thought that the first step out of that mystification is to follow Bill James and realize that there's really nothing special about insider knowledge at all.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Marco Scutaro, 37. Sometimes, things just happen. Lifetime OPS+ 94; OPS+ over 243 PAs with the Giants, 145.Yes, the downside of Brian Sabean is that Scutaro will now get an Aubrey Huff deal, but it's mostly just money; it's not as if he's blocking anyone. And it was sure great while it lasted.

The good stuff:

1. XKCD takes on Congressional history as seen through DW-NOMINATE. Not real thrilled about reference to "party systems," but hard to complain too much.

2. Thad Hall on potential electoral -- democratic -- disaster. See also Paul Gronke.

3. Doug Mataconis on the Electoral College.

4. And thinking about the economic effects of Sandy, by Suzy Khimm.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Elsewhere: More Senate, and Weather

I have a post up at Greg's place on possible electoral effects of Hurricane Sandy. No, I don't feel any need to apologize for thinking about elections at A Time Like This. Of course, everyone should deal with safety first, but I'm far from the storm, and politics and elections continue to be very important. Remember: public policy outcomes determined by many years of elections (and bureaucratic politics, and wars, among other things) will strongly influence what kinds of damage the storm causes. Not to mention, perhaps, what kind of storm it is in the first place.

Meanwhile, more on Senate elections. At PP, I wrote about the hidden story behind this cycle's GOP Senate disaster. And my Salon column over the weekend was about the effects of this cycle on the next one: my prediction is that there are enough supposed "establishment" nominees losing to ensure that Tea Party primaries escape blame within the GOP, even though Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are the most obvious losses.

Another Senate Update

Oh, why not? If you ask me, the Senate races are one of the biggest underappreciated stories of this election cycle, and so even though I posted about it back on Thursday, I'm doing an update now.

The story then was that the Republicans had solid leads in states that would give them 43 seats; Democrats had leads that would give them 46. Seats. Of the remaining 11, five leaned to the Democrats, two were tossups with Democratic polling leads, and four were tossups with GOP polling leads.

Since then, there are two significant changes, one expected and one a bit of a shocker. The expected one is that Richard Mourdock's lead disappeared as soon as post-gaffe polling was available. The unexpected one is that Bob Kerrey, given up for dead in Nebraska, is apparently quite alive after all. So here's the update. I'm going to give two sets of numbers. First, the current HuffPollster Democratic lead or deficit, followed in parenthesis by last week's number; then, the current Nate Silver projection followed by last week's projection.

Leaning D Seats

CT Murphy    Pollster +5.6 (4.7);  Silver 86% (78)
MA Warren   Pollster +3.4 (3.5);  Silver 95% (89)
OH S. Brown Pollster +5.7 (4.5);  Silver 97% (93)
PA Casey       Pollster +5.2 (3.8);  Silver 94% (93)
WI Baldwin    Pollster +3.1 (3.8);  Silver 83% (85)

The story here is one of little movement, and therefore continuing Democratic strength. Tammy Baldwin remains the weakest of the five; her lead shrinks a bit, but we're also a few days closer to the finish line. As I said last time, it wouldn't be at all surprising if one of these wind up the other way, but a Dem sweep of five is probably much more likely than Republicans winning two or more.

Tossup with D Lead

VA Kaine     Pollster +3.0 (3.0);  Silver 92% (82)
MT Tester    Pollster +1.8 (1.6);  Silver 38% (43)
IN Donnelly  Pollster +0.6 (-4.9);  Silver 36% (36)

Donnelly's gains came from partisan polling, one on each side; 538 doesn't use those, and there are no nonpartisan public polls since October 11. It seems very likely that Donnelly took a lead post-gaffe; the question is whether it sticks (or even grows), or turns out to be just a bubble. On the other two, Virginia continues to look more like a Leaning D than a tossup, while Silver's model still doesn't trust Tester's very slim polling edge.

Tossup with R Lead

ND Heitkamp Pollster -0.6 (-2.7);  Silver 13% (18)
AZ Carmona   Pollster -1.2 (-1.2);  Silver 27% (31)
NV Berkley    Pollster -2.9 (2.6);   Silver 26% (28)

Nevada looks like Virginia: more of a leaner than a real tossup. In North Dakota, Heitkamp is staying close in Pollster's average thanks in large part to internal polls. They could be right! But situations in which one side is releasing their polls and the other isn't are likely to warp Pollster's averages. Likely, not certainly.

And the new kid on the block:

In Nebraska, Bob Kerrey has close Deb Fischer's lead in the HuffPollster average all the way down to 1.7 points. That's close! However, 538 doesn't buy it, at least not yet, giving Kerrey only a 13% shot at this one, and for whatever reason HuffPollster hasn't recategorized it; they still have it as Safe R. Presumably, if the trend line stays where it is, they'll eventually move it to at least Lean R.

Remember: if Republicans sweep all twelve of these, they get to 54 seats (all estimates assume that Maine counts as a Dem pickup). If Democrats sweep them, that's 58 seats. If the (apparent) polling leads hold everywhere, that's a 54D/46R Senate. If the Nate Silver favorite wins everywhere, it's 52D/48R, or 53D/47R if Dems win 538 projections plus Indiana.

I should also add: the two "safe" Democratic seats with leads under ten points are Missouri and Florida. I don't see any real reason for GOP optimism in either, but it's worth noting that there's no Republican safe seat, other than Nebraska, anywhere even remotely in reach. So if you want to project some hidden GOP surge, go ahead and add those two on for a maximum of 56R/46D.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jose Mijares, 28, of your World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Picked up on a waiver claim!

I promise I'll lay off the Giants talk soon; meanwhile, I'll make up for it with some good stuff:

1. More on momentum: Great Brendan Nyhan column on why the press loves it.

2. Solid example, from Philip Klein, of how to make the strongest reality-based case for a candidate behind in the polls (in this case, Romney in Ohio) having a chance. The way to do it? Begin with an honest acceptance of what the polls say; embrace the uncertainty inherent in polls; mention as possibilities -- not certainty -- any plausible reasons that least-favorable polls could be off. Truth is there are always plausible reasons the polls might be off; the problem is that there are always plausible reasons in both directions, and so in reality most of the time the polls are correct. But not always, and as long as it's within a plausible range I see nothing wrong with an optimistic read. Key is to not ignore the basic numbers, and to not invent entirely bogus reasons to ignore reality. See also, by the way, Nate Cohn on Ohio.

3. Wait, Dan Senor is being floated for National Security Advisor? Really? Good Marc Tracy item on Senor.

4. Dan Hopkins brings some nice election notes. The main one I care about, as you might guess, is the point about attention to Senate races.

5. I should note that I disagree with his eventual conclusion about districting, but regardless: Nolan McCarty explains why gerrymandering is not a significant source of partisan polarization.

6. John Sides on how Sandy could affect the elections (and be sure to check the comments for more).

7. And Alyssa Rosenberg: "I feel like in the zombie apocalypse, Bain Capital would probably survive to restructure the remaining human sanctuaries." She's reacting, of course, to the great Joss Whedon endorsement.

Friday Baseball Post -- World Series Champs Edition

The San Francisco Giants, World Series Champs. I could get used to this!

Just two quick comments or so, since it's late and I suppose sooner or later I'll realize that it's Sunday night and tomorrow is Monday morning...

First: the biggest surprise to me in 2010 was how the feeling stuck all year. Not even just all winter, but all through the next season, the Giants weren't just the Giants; they were the World Series Champion Giants. Of course I never really suspected that it would be anything more than an exception year; even with all the very legitimate young talent on that team, who could have guessed it would happen again so soon?

The second thing...I made the 2010 team a comp for the Miracle Mets. Came out of nowhere, featuring young, great, homegrown pitching, and then a lot of misfits and castoffs who all came together and had a magical run. For fun, both teams won the World Series as underdogs against great teams, and both in five games.

This year's comp? And I haven't said anything about it to anyone until now because I firmly believe in jinxes, but even before the WS started I've had it firmly in my mind that the comp is the 1954 Giants. OK, it's not all perfect, but...In both cases, the team recently had a miracle pennant (two years ago this time, three years ago and losing the WS the other time). In both cases, the miracle pennant run was sparked by a rookie call-up...and the the rookie disappeared during the interim season(s) -- injury in one case, military service in the other -- only to return with an MVP year. Both were underdogs in the World Series, and of course as it turned out they both finished with sweeps.

I could say plenty more, but as I said it's late. Maybe I'll write more about them later. But I will say one more thing...this team really should be legendary. So many amazing stories. Zito and the Panda, back from where they were in the 2010 WS. Lincecum, redeeming a painful season. Madison Bumgarner, seemingly completely lost, so much so that he was dropped from the rotation, magically fixed in time for a brilliant start. Speaking of brilliant starts: everything about the Ryan Vogelsong story is amazing, but he too appeared totally worn down in September, only to snap back to the best version of himself in October. Marco Scutaro, absolutely unreal. And Pence. And Posey. Really  -- I know every winning team has stories, but this one seems to me to have far more than it's share.

So congrats to the team, and thank you to the team. For all of us Giants fans, just a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

2012 World Series Champions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same one as for conservatives: what ballot measures are you particularly interested in during this election cycle?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Which ballot measures, if any, are you especially interested in during this cycle?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I was thinking of going with Syria/Lebanon, but instead: Richard Mourdock probably went from about a 65% chance of winning to about a 20% chance of winning. That's a pretty big deal -- every Senate seat matters.

The final debate didn't seem to have any effect on the polls, so in that sense it appears not to have mattered.

That's what I'll kick it off with, but what do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, much less the players, but I'm certainly happy for the travel day today.

I can't quite get my mind around the idea that the Giants have been in the WS three times over eleven years. For that matter, I think it's surprising how few teams have made it since they put in the extra round (and of course they expanded again this year, but ignoring that):

Giants, Cardinals, Braves 3
Phillies, Fish 2
Rockies, Astros, DBacks, Mets, Padres

Yankees 7
Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians 2
White Sox, Angels, Rays

So 10 NL teams, 8 AL teams; 3 NL teams have 9 of the 18 pennants, and of course the Yankees have 7 of the AL flags all by themselves.

I would have guessed - I did guess - that no team would dominate a three-tiered set of playoffs the way the Yankees have. And that back-to-back pennants would be very rare. Let's see...we've had six defending pennant winners repeat over 1996-2012. In the 1976-1993 (free agency, LCS only except for a goofy 1981), I count eight. So that's not all that different, if my count is correct.

Some of it is that I suspect is if competitive balance has deteriorated as a consequence of the post-1994 collective bargaining agreement (although I don't know if that's true -- I don't keep up enough with sabermetric stuff these days to know who studies it and what they've found. Just my impression). Some of it might be luck. Some might be Mariano Rivera, all by himself, I suppose.

Not that I'm complaining about anything these days, of course.

I also can't quite get my mind around the idea that the Giants have been in the WS four times since the last time the Dodgers were there...that the Dodgers have won exactly two LCS games during that time. Indeed: when I consider the possibility that things could go terribly wrong over the next several days, that's a great comfort to me.

Okay, now I'm ready for Game 3 tomorrow night.

Friday, October 26, 2012

They Should Spin. We Shouldn't Listen

Greg has a nice item out this afternoon about what the campaigns are claiming about their internal polls, which reminds me of something I forgot to include, although I've said it before, in my item the other day about how I'm following the polling: I'm absolutely, completely ignoring any claims about internal polls. This is really basic: anything they say (or anything that they leak) is going to be self-serving. And on top of that, there's no magic here; there's no reason for us to believe that the campaigns know more about the horse race from their internal polling than we know from public polls. 

What's more, most internal campaign polling isn't really about the head-to-head, anyway; it's about how to deploy messages, and what groups to pitch those messages to. Yes, presidential campaigns (and to a lesser extent statewide campaigns) do have to make decisions about where to move resources. But that's generally not the big decision they have to make. If that's all there was, I'm not even sure that presidential candidates would find it worthwhile to poll at all. 

The flip side of this is that the campaigns absolutely should be spinning all of it as much as they can. Losing campaigns need to keep their supporters fired up; winning ones want to prevent complacency. Neither side wants the other to dominate the information environment, on the polls or anything else. So, yes, you can expect the spin to continue, and even be upset with your side if they aren't doing it. Just don't pay any attention to what they're saying.

A Bit More on Momentum

I had a post up yesterday over at Plum Line talking about the myth of momentum, and why we shouldn't expect change in one direction in presidential general elections to build on itself. You should also read John Sides, who talks about media coverage, and Nate Silver, who supplies a useful definition and a bit of empirical evidence. What I add to the mix in my post is why we shouldn't expect the groups who are responsible for changes in polls to yield continued changes.

Just one quick addition to all of that: just because momentum is unlikely in the current election doesn't mean it can never happen. Kevin Collins points out that momentum makes sense in multicandidate contests when strategic voting comes into play. That's true.

Momentum also may be relevant in primary elections. Not just because of strategic voting (learning that my favorite candidate has little chance may shift my vote to my second-favorite, in order to beat the candidate I really don't like), but also because of the information environment and the nature of the electorate. First, we have an electorate of generally unattached voters who could vote for any of a number of candidates. Then, a candidate who wins a primary typically get the lion's share of press coverage immediately after that event. I may, as an unattached voter, gravitate towards that winner just because she's the only candidate I'm really aware of that week. Indeed, that dynamic could easily play out in a single-election primary (such as a Senate primary) with a positive poll, debate performance, or financial report serving as the event which allows one candidate to dominate the information environment. Note, however, if parties are able to dominate the information environment, then you should get a lot less momentum.

The main idea, at any rate, is that for "momentum" to work it requires the first set of changes to then lead to further changes -- which requires some pot of voters who will react either will react, but only more slowly, to the cause that produced the first set of changes, or a pot of voters who will react to the change itself. So find conditions where that may work, and you'll find possibilities for momentum.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Lauren Tewes, 59.

Up two games to none, must be time for good stuff:

1. It's twenty-four hours old by now, but nothing has really changed, and I really like Ezra Klein's summary of where the presidential race is right now. The only thing I'd nitpick on is that I'd call the national vote tied, not a very slim Romney lead; in the three days since I've been counting, I noticed the Pollster lead change eight times. It sometimes inches up to half a percentage point, but until it passes that or at least stays there for a full day, I'm calling it a tie.

2. The Tax Policy Center, profiled by Annie Lowrey.

3. Theodicy: the public opinion data. From religion scholar Robert Jones.

4. Nice Adam Serwer piece on the Benghazi emails that proved...nothing. Again, I'll stick with what I've been saying: Republicans have totally miscast the Libya story as a scandal rather than as a (potential) policy failure.

5. And Joe Sheehan approves of the managers, so far.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Catch of the Day

Ed Kilgore reads a dispatch from ace Nevada reporter Jon Ralston about why Mitt Romney is actively contesting Nevada, and concludes:

So Ralston asks a simple question and comes up with a bunch of possible answers: maybe it’s about internal polls, or maybe it’s about downballot races, or maybe it’s a thank-you note to Sheldon Adelson or maybe it’s just because they have the money so why not spend it?

Truth be told, most campaigns are rolling balls of madness just beneath the surface.
Yup, and a terribly important insight. This is actually why I put so much emphasis on the likelihood that politicians will copy strategies and tactics from winning campaigns -- which is very different from copying winning strategies and tactics (that is, those things that actually made a difference). Oh, there are certainly some electioneering techniques which are carefully tested and evaluated. But as near as I can tell, lots and lots and lots of what politicians and operatives do is based on folk wisdom. Or organizational inertia. Or organizational chaos. Or organizational cross-incentives (such as when whoever was in charge of Nevada may have personal incentives for the campaign to divert resources there, regardless of whether it maximizes Romney's chances of winning). All of which might be going on at the same time.

See, for example, a nice Greg Koger post about the conflicts between party networks, candidates, and formal party organizations.

One of the implications of all of this is that reporters who are inclined to blame campaign in-fighting or other internal campaign issues for a loss can always find plenty of examples, because both winning and losing campaigns have plenty of internal campaign conflict. After all, internal conflict is built in to every large organization, but if you think about presidential campaigns in particular, you realize that they'll have more htan their share.

All of which is to say: nice catch!

Senate Roundup: Every Seat Matters

The important thing to remember about Senate elections is that every single one counts. It's not like the House, where for the next two years it doesn't matter all that much whether the Republicans have a 15 seat or 25 seat or 35 seat matters some, but not all that much. Party "control" -- majority, that is -- simply overwhelms everything else.

That's not true in the Senate. Sure, it matters quite a bit which party is in the majority. But the size of the majority matters, and the identity of individual Senators matters far more than the identity of individual Members of the House matters.

(Just to begin with: the House has nearly absolute majority party control of what comes to the floor for a vote. In the Senate, any determined individual Senator can probably bring anything she wants to the floor and force at least a procedural vote on it).

And then there's the issue of term length. Yes, thanks to incumbency advantages elections in the House for the 113th Congress beginning in January 2013 certainly do affect what will happen in the cycles which elect the 114th and 115th Houses. But in the Senate, we're directly, right now, electing one third of the 114th and 115th Senates. Or, to put it in practical terms: suppose that Barack Obama wins, but that no Supreme Court opening shows up in the next four years. That's okay; we're voting this November on a third of the Senators who will, in that case, confirm or reject SCOTUS nominees from the next president, not the one that (in that hypothetical) we're re-electing now. Or course, there are also incumbency factors on the Senate side...if Tommy Thompson wins he may well remain in the Senate for 12 or 18 years, but if he loses there's no way he's going to be elected again.

So how does it look? If you're the Democrats, just shockingly good (and I'm writing this one from the Dem's perspective -- easier than switching back and forth). Nate Silver right now is projecting that Democrats either hold their current 53 seat majority or drop down one (actual forecast is 52.4 Democratic Senators). Over at Pollster, Democrats (counting King in Maine as a Democrat, which it's worth pointing out isn't 100% certain) have solid leads that would give them 46 seats plus five more leaning Democratic, with six remaining tossups.  Republicans have only 43 solid seats, with no states leaning towards them.

That leaves a total of 11 seats in play, five leaning towards the Democrats. Going through those eleven, starting with the five leaning Democratic:

* Murphy leads by 4.7% in Pollster's average in CT; Nate Silver's prediction model calls it 78% for the Democrats.

* Warren up by (Pollster) 3.5% in MA; Silver calls it 89%.

* Brown up 4.5% in OH; 538: 93%.

* Casey up only 3.8% in PA; 538 has a larger current lead, and says 93%.

* Baldwin up 3.8% in WI; 538: 85%.

I think the 538 odds sound about right; it wouldn't be a shock if one of these went to a currently-losing Republican, but a lot more likely that Democrats will sweep these five than they'll drop two or more of them -- although a late GOP surge could do just that. The only think I see here would be the possibility of a hidden vote against Baldwin; there's of course no way of knowing if that might happen.

In two toss-ups, the Democrat leads in the polls; Democrats reach the current 53 by retaining the leaning D and these two:

* Kaine up 3.0% in Virginia; 538: 82%.

* Tester up 1.6% in Montana; 538: 43%.

Virginia looks to me (and 538) a lot more like Wisconsin than like a true toss up. Montana, on the other hand, is better for Republicans. The difference between Pollster and Silver there are the state factors built into the 538 prediction model; the two basically agree on the current very slim Tester lead.

Four toss-ups with Republicans in front:

* Heitkamp down by 2.7 in ND; 538: 18%.

* Carmona down 1.2% in AZ; 538: 31%.

* Berkley down 2.6% in NV; 538: 26%.

* Donnelly down 4.9% in IN; 538: 36%.

Obviously the big one here this week is Indiana, where there are no public post-gaffe polls. Silver has the current Mourdock lead (and the Berg lead in ND) smaller than what Pollster makes it.

My initial reaction is that I'll be surprised if Mourdock can's not a very big lead, and judging from the way both parties are responding there's general agreement that it was a major gaffe...which means that opinion leaders are going to treat it as one, which means it could easily filter through to voters. We're not talking about an experienced successful politician with a long history of a close connection with his constituents, either. However, it's hard to know whether it plays out that way without any polling confirmation at all. Presumably we'll get some soon enough.

On the other three: Nevada sure would seem to be connected to questions of turnout and the presidential election. So whatever you think about that is probably what you think about this election. The other two look less likely to me for the Dems.

So what do we have? Best case for Republicans, with a big surge to Romney (or it turns out that Romney-leading polls had it right), it's plausible for them to get as many as 54 seats. For the Democrats, best-case is 57 seats. That's a huge swing! However, the Democratic path to 57 is basically to keep all their leads (at least one of which seems quite tough), win Indiana, and then overcome leads in just three other states. That's few enough, and the leads are small enough, that any one could easily be a consequence of either local factors changing the polls or the polls turning out to have missed something. All three falling that way, plus everything else, seems highly would probably take a real Obama surge to make it happen.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to "Racetrack" Kelly Downs, 52.

Just a bit of good stuff:

1. Simon Jackman has updated polling house effects.

2. Steve Kornacki has a theory to explain the possibility of an electoral college/national vote split. It's plausible!

3. There are things more likely to receive a Plain Blog link than a hit story on Frank Luntz, but not all that many. Here's one from Joan Walsh.

4. Of course, say something nice about me (and write a smart column) and you might get linked, too. Stephen Silver has ten issues, not barking, in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Friday Baseball Post (Wednesday Evening Edition)

For the fourth time in my life, and the fifth since they left New York, the Giants win the pennant and advance to the World Series. Game one tonight, but I figured I should write something first.

First up, the NLCS. I continue to be impressed with Bruce Bochy. Whether it was leaving Barry Zito off the postseason roster and benching the Panda back in 2010, or constantly reworking his postseason rotation and bullpen this year, Bochy is the rare manager who doesn't seem to assign roles by how famous a player is, how much money he makes or (given the ALCS this year) what the press is saying today. Oh, I've thought he was wrong from time to time, but overcoming those particular biases makes it a lot easier to be right. No, I don't know why he insists on keeping Pence fifth, Belt sixth, making it as easy as possible for opposing managers to get bullpen platoon advantages. Remember that it didn't matter against the Cardinals, who weren't built to do that anyway; we'll see what happens this week.

And, second...for a team that had to come from behind in seven, that sure wasn't a very close series, was it? Truth is that the Cardinals were lucky to be in it; all four Giants wins were blowouts, and only Game Two was an easy win for St. Louis. Indeed, Game Three, the first Kyle Lohse start, looked at the time and now especially looks like a game the Cards were lucky to win (that was the one where the Giants had tons of baserunners and couldn't quite bunch them the right way). Someone tweeted during the final that it was odd that Fox was showing a rerun of Game Seven of the 1985 World Series, and that sounds about right -- including that the Cardinals were actually outplayed in that one, too.

So, the World Series. I don't believe in making predictions about short series in baseball. I know people do it, including many I respect, but I can't see why. I do think the Tigers are a bit overrated at this point...Verlander is That Good, but the rest of the rotation is only good, and the hitting is nothing special (note that Buster Postey wound up with a higher OPS+ this year than Cabrera, for whatever that's worth).

Not that the Giants are all that amazing, either. It's not a bad team at all, but only a great one if the rotation actually was at it's best, which just wasn't the case most of the year or right now.

As for me, I'm just happy to be able to root for the Giants in a World Series again. It's always better to have a season that ends in October, however it ends.

No One Is Pulling Out Anywhere

One of the more foolish things I've seen lately is a trend of pundits drawing conclusions about whether campaigns think they can win various states, and therefore whether they have a chance to win, based on whether they've abandoned a state or not.

This was probably never as true as all that. But everyone should know: we're in a new world. The campaigns have plenty of resources. And, meanwhile, there just aren't a lot of states which are going to be competitive in a reasonably close race. At the moment, Pollster rates seven states as toss-ups, another two as leaning to Obama, and that's it. Nine competitive states. The campaigns have the money to contest all nine. And the total swing in them, from four point Obama leads in Wisconsin and Nevada to a two point Romney lead in North Carolina, just aren't all that far apart that it makes sense for either campaign to abandon one in order to play for a longshot. And, indeed, John Sides reports that the candidates are at least running ads in each of these states and a few others, too.

So as far as talk about pulling out of states is concerned...just ignore it. It's all bluff. Both campaigns have the money to compete in all the swing states. End of story.

Debate Questions

There's been a lot of talk about debate question topics -- the Wonkblog gang yesterday did a nice item about the five most important issues not raised in the debates (housing, Europe, climate, Fed/SCOTUS appointments, campaign finance; I think the first four are good choices). I was wondering in particular about climate, and started thinking about 1996: after the failure of Bill Clinton's health care reform plan, did health care get as little attention that year as climate did after the demise of cap-and-trade?

And...nope. Turns out that in the first presidential debate there was a general question about health care, and in the second there was one general question and then a second one about managed care. And that's not to mention that Medicare was perhaps the most talked about topic over the debates that year.

So, basically, I'll toss in a negative finding for those who were concerned about this: there is no historical pattern in which a failed presidential initiative on a major issue leads to that issue disappearing from the issue agenda, at least as measured by presidential debate topics.

Now, that said, I pretty much liked the format this year which allowed the candidates to go back and forth during a block of time devoted to discussion topics. It meant fewer topics covered, I think, but more time for them to talk. And I don't really care much if any particular issue, no matter how important, isn't included, although from the point of view of critiquing the moderators I suppose I'm for more important rather than less important issues. But at any rate, I suspected that the absence of climate in the debates this year might have to do with the history of the last four years, and it turns out my guess wasn't supported by the evidence.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Arthur Rhodes, one of my very favorites, 43.

World Series tonight; meanwhile, good stuff:

1. Keith Humphreys writes in defense of Arlen Specter, disputing my claims to the contrary. He may be correct!

2. What may be going on in Ohio, from Nate Cohn.

3. Reporting on binders of women and Big Bird, by Amanda Hess.

4. Joshua Tucker on Intrade; see also a follow-up.

5. And for the last time, at least for this cycle, another edition of Ann Friedman's brilliant debate wraps.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How I'm Following the Polling for the Last Two Weeks

Take it as a recommendation or not; this is what I'm doing right now.

First: I have tabs open to HuffPollster's national average, HuffPollster's big map, and RCP's national average.   I've been insanely, irrationally hitting refresh on the HuffPollster national average...well, often enough to know that the lead flipped at least four times yesterday. Only once twice so far today. Why those three? I really like HuffPolster's model (from Simon Jackman), especially at this point with so many polls showing up. Also, the page loads nicely, the chart is clear and readable, all the good stuff. The big map works well, too. Why RCP? I don't particularly like their simple average, but it's a good reality check, given that it's the one high-quality aggregator which is thought to lean Republican (that is, hosted by a site or run by people with GOP connections. I'm pretty confident that all of these, and TPM's poll-of-polls, are all straight shooters, but just in case something leaks in, it's nice to have balance).

I try very hard to ignore the individual national polls I see over twitter. I'll admit to one bad habit: I'm one of those foolish souls who checks Gallup every day when the new numbers show up. But it's more of a ritual than it is information gathering. For state polling, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire does a great job of collecting the day's polls -- especially if you don't use twitter he's still tops, and if you do you should of course follow him. It's a good way to get a quick look at a bunch of state polls without getting distracted by any particular one. If I see something that stands out, I'll switch over to the HuffPollster big map and click on that state.

That's pretty much the numbers. I'll look at other things once in a while, and I'm aware of what the poll-based predictors say, but I haven't been checking them regularly. That's pretty much what I'm doing.

On top of the numbers, I mostly read Nate Silver's daily summaries, and whatever Mark Blumenthal  writes over at Pollster, plus I look for Harry Enten and Nate Cohn, try to be aware of what Sean Trende is saying, too. Plus I try to read anything that political scientists who blog about polling and elections write (Drew Linzer and Simon Jackman in particular on the numbers, but of course anything at Monkey Cage, Brendan Nyhan, etc., etc.). There are other good people out there, too, and I'll come across those, but that's my basic run. The idea is to be aware of any additional texture or biases in the numbers we're seeing -- but at the same time it's really important not to get into cherry-picking.

I think that's basically it.

I'll also check Nate Silver or Pollster for Senate races, and I see Senate polls posted on twitter. I wish I had more House info.

The only really strong recommendation I'll give you is the basic one: polling averages, not individual polls. The rest? Look, there's no reason to do any of this; we'll find out soon enough who wins the presidency. So this is strictly about what to do if you're a semi-obsessive political really, really, really want more info, but you also want an honest evaluation of what's going on.

Ignore Those Polls! (Or At Least Be Wary)

Remember, most people do not have strong opinions about most policy options. Therefore, the way they answer survey questions about issue positions can be massively affected by current news events, opinion leadership, question wording, and pretty much everything else. The effect probably grows larger the less people know -- and think -- about the issue. Something that's a long-standing policy question, or something that is part of ordinary life, might produce relatively stable views; those issues which are rarely in the news, or highly abstract, are likely to produce less stable answers. That is, answers which are even more highly dependent on recent information flows and on question wording.

Example: both Conor Friedersdorf and Dan Larison had posts up before the debate last night emphasizing the reluctance of the American people to get any "more involved" in "Middle East leadership changes." That's from a recent Pew poll. But in early September, just before the attacks in Benghazi, Pew found strong pluralities approving of the intervention there (44/33) and of Barack Obama's overall handling of Libya (49/32). 

In other words, current opposition to the abstract notion of US "involvement" in "leadership changes" turns out to utterly fail to predict reactions to something that sure appears to fit that characterization. At least, when things were going well -- or, I should say, at least when no apparent bad news was visible.

For candidates, I think this suggests that for low-salience issues such as these, there's probably a way to phrase things so that they don't sound objectionable to most voters. That is, if you want to, say, intervene in Syria in a particular way, there's probably a way to describe the underlying principle that would support such a move that can produce polling majorities. Unfortunately, there's also a way to describe it that will produce polling majorities against the policy.

For presidents, the most obvious point is that what matters on low salience items such as these isn't so much how something polls going in, but whether the policy actually works or not. Or at least avoids damage that would show up on the front pages of newspapers, especially damage clearly linked to the policy. Of course, that's probably true for all policies; presidents who believe, for example, that policies which poll badly will yield strong economic growth should almost certainly pursue those "unpopular" policies. At least as long as there's enough time for payoffs before Election Day.

All of which is to say that if Friedersdorf and Larison believe that, say, an intervention in Syria would be bad policy, then that's the best electoral basis for opposing it. Not what people told Pew about some abstract question about intervention.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to John Castino, 58. Because I liked his APBA card one year.

Just a little good stuff:

1. I generally like Steve Kornacki's argument about rewarding or punishing the GOP for how it's acted in the last few years, but I think it's probably too late: the 2010 landslide was more than sufficient to insure that Republicans will emulate 1993 and 2009 next time the Democrats win the presidency.

2. Nate Silver's debate wrap. Also one from Hans Noel about "winning" debates.

3. And Maria Konnikova on watching (debates) while tweeting. I guess my reaction would be: if you really want to do serious analysis of policy positions, you're going to wait and go back over the transcript carefully anyway. So you might as well tweet while it's going on.

Foreign Policy Debate

My post is up over at PP -- it's all about Mitt Romney, and the policy gap. As usual, what I did was to post that one quickly, before seeing any reactions at all outside of what I saw on twitter during the debate.

I see now that the instapolls are on Barack Obama's side again this time, for whatever that's worth. And the rest of what I saw is mostly supporting that, so it looks as if it was a good night for Obama. We'll see how the polls react (or don't) over the next several days, of course. Too soon to know.

I'll say a bit about Obama's performance, since I didn't over there. Probably more tomorrow (yes, I've been a bit distracted tonight with the Giants/Cardinals game -- forgot to put up an open thread before the debate, even).

I suspect -- although I'm not sure -- that the fact checkers are going to give Obama a harder time on this one. Just a guess; there's nothing in particular that stood out to me, but I thought a few times he was shading things a bit more than usual. That's probably good strategy on his part; by establishing a reputation as relatively more factually connected than his opponent, he can probably afford to slip a few through, something his campaigns have done before with ads. I could be wrong...I'll be reading the fact-checkers tomorrow morning, not tonight.

As for the rest of his performance: it struck me that Obama was spending quite a bit of time on personal attacks, some rather petty, rather than on policy attacks. He didn't get to tax returns, but he did get to Romney's investments, and I think some others. Granted, when he's running against a guy whose entire defense of his budget plan is to trust him because he's balanced budgets in business (Huh? You don't do that in business; it's not the same thing at all), it's perhaps understandable that Obama would go at him for those sorts of things. Still, several of Obama's attacks seemed small and not very convincing to me.

Granted, some of the attacks were quite successful, including the one that seems to be getting the most play tonight -- the one on Romney's attacks on the size of the navy. And Obama was never really pressed hard, never even close to being rattled, thanks in part to Romney's choice to back away from many of his attacks and in part to Obama being quite capable of handling attacks. At least most of the time.

It's a mug's game to guess what effect any of that has on the election, other than saying again that (1) the history of these things is that most debates don't make much of a difference, and that (2) if the election is in fact very close, then "not much of a difference" could still be significant. There's really no substitute, however, for waiting for the polls.

More, I suspect, tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Obvious Way to Fix the EC Tie Problem

Necessary preface: I think it's highly unlikely that we'll get an Electoral College tie, and I don't really think it's a big deal if we do -- assuming that Republicans in the House would have the votes (which appears highly likely), they would simply announce immediately that they were voting for Mitt Romney, and everyone would agree that the election was over with Romney the winner. Recount and lawsuit issues could leave the election muddled, but a tie per se is highly unlikely to do so.

At any rate: someone over the last few days was tweeting out an old blog post which argued that the problem could be fixed by simply increasing the size of the House of Representatives by one, to 436. That would make the Electoral College number odd: 436 plus 100 from the Senate plus three for the District of Columbia under the 23rd amendment would equal 539.

It's a bad idea! Sure, it would solve the Electoral College problem, if you think it is a problem (I'm skeptical, but there is at least some possibility of mischief if the election goes to the House). But only at the expense of having an even number in the House, which just pushes the problem there. The Senate by design has an even number, but also a tiebreaker; the House really would have a mess if the parties had an absolute tie.

But really this is just an excuse to mention that the obvious solution is DC statehood. Then you get to keep the House at 435, but with the repeal of the 23rd you eliminate the extra three. Post-statehood, you have 435 plus 102 plus 0, for 537.

(The way you get around the Constitution is that Democrats draw a New Columbia map that includes all of the regular residents of the District except for a handful of reliably Democratic voters, and move that as a regular statehood resolution while simultaneously moving a Constitutional amendment... you could either do the amendment to simply repeal the 23rd amendment electoral votes for the resident-free remaining Federal District, or you could make DC a regular state and get rid of the Federal District entirely. Given that the choice for Republicans would be to agree to the amendment or give the Democrats three extra Electoral Votes, my guess is it would take about a week for the thing to get through Congress and enough states. Once, that is, Democrats had enough votes to pass the statehood law through both Chambers. Of course, this only happens in years with unified Democratic control).

Okay, look -- I know that the House is often not at full strength, and survives just fine with an even number of Members. And, yes, once again, I think that an Electoral College tie is both unlikely and, if it happens, unlikely to cause trouble. But as long as people are talking about it, I might as well bring this one up again.

Arlen Specter

Rich Yselson called Arlen Specter, who died last week, a "poor man's Richard Nixon." Something about Specter brought out the snark, didn't it? At least in me it did. I once said that Pennsylvania is the largest state to have never had a women represent it in the Senate, but Specter was probably willing to consider switching if it would keep him there.

You would think that I would be a Specter fan; I generally like the broad category of non-ideological pragmatic careerists, which is generally the category Specter belongs to. I was not much of a fan. I think it's that he was sanctimonious. I guess that's what you would call it. Yselson calls Specter (by way of Nixon) a "brilliant, ruthless political obsessive," but I don't think that's right. I'm not even sure about ruthless; yeah, he was willing to be brutal to those he opposed, but I always read that more as far that Specter was always certain that he was correct, rather than that he was willing to destroy others to further self-interest, although Nixon to be sure was always very good at believing that his sort and long-term self-interest was always part of the national interest that his enemies just didn't see. Mostly, it's the "brilliant" part I don't see at all. Arlen Specter may have been Arlen Specter's idea of a smart person, but there's precious little evidence that I'm aware of that we should buy into it.

Specter did plenty of worthwhile things in his political career, as well as plenty of things which were disgraces. Thomas/Hill really is that bad. I've always thought that Democrats got a bit of a bad rap on that one; yes, they were slow to realize that the charges were serious, but then again liberal Democrats had already decided to oppose Thomas for other reasons, so Hill really was (in that sense) irrelevant to them. For those otherwise intending to vote for Thomas, however, Hill's accusations should have made them think twice, and Specter wasn't much for thinking twice.

Arlen Specter was one of five Senators who were subjects of (wonderful, terrific, highly recommended) short books by Richard Fenno. My impressions of Pete Domenici, Mark Andrews, Dan Quayle, and John Glenn were all improved from reading those books. Not, alas, Specter. I consider politics and honorable and patriotic profession, and for his pursuit of politics I can applaud Arlen Specter; beyond that, I should probably just stop.

George McGovern

I've seen a lot of good items about George McGovern (here's the NYT obituary) so I'll focus on what I know the most about: presidential nomination reform.

Granted, I may be biased here (we all tend to inflate the stuff we study), but I'll just say that there are very few people who have their name attached to such an important change in the way the nation governs itself.

Do you all know the story? In 1968, young anti-war activists went "Clean for Gene" -- at least as legend has it, they shaved, got haircuts, put on regular people clothes, and went up to New Hampshire to campaign for Gene McCarthy. And at first it looked as though it was working. McCarthy did surprisingly well in the New Hampshire primary; next thing you know Bobby Kennedy entered the contest as another antiwar candidate, and then, shocking everyone, LBJ abdicated, saying he wouldn't run again. What followed were a small series of primaries, the assassination of Kennedy, and then the growing revelation (to those new to the process) that none of those primaries really counted for anything. Hubert Humphrey was nominated in Chicago, by delegates who had been chosen far in advance of the campaign, in many cases under procedures which appeared to be (and often were) entirely closed to those new to party politics.

The reformers didn't get the nomination, but they did get a reform commission, chaired by George McGovern. What happened next (and the way it happened is told in Byron Shafer's terrific Quiet Revolution) is they completely changed the method of nominating candidates for president. The convention system had endured for over a century since it replaced King Caucus; suddenly, it was cast aside for the new, primary/caucus delegate accumulation system.

Brief version: in the old system, candidates competed to win the support of delegates, who were the representatives of the state parties. In the new system, candidates competed to have their own delegates selected in primaries and multistage caucuses which were equally open and accessible to (at least) all party members.

At first, this seemed to mean a transfer of influence away from the parties and towards the candidates, on the one hand, and the press, on the other. The result were two Democratic nominations, McGovern himself in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, that almost certainly would not have happened under the pre-reform rules. However, it turned out that those nominations were probably effects not of the rules per se but of uneven adaptation to the rules by various party actors. By 1984, and in later years, it became clear the new procedures allowed parties understood properly -- which included party networks outside of the formal party structure -- to choose the nominee.

None of this is to say that the current procedures are perfect. For example: one of the key complaints from 1968 was that it was unfair that so much of the nomination process was locked into place well before the election year; activists were outraged to find that the delegates had been chosen long before McCarthy's campaign had got underway. This was enshrined in McGovern-Fraser commission guidelines for "timeliness" which required that delegates would be selected in the election year. And yet those pre-chosen delegates could be influenced right up until the convention, at least in theory; now, while the delegates are chosen in January through June, much of the real action of the campaign happens long before the voters get involved. And some have argued that the convention system was doomed one way or another.

The new system promised full, meaningful, and timely participation. I'm not sure whether it really achieved those goals. However, I do think that the commission successfully achieved the most important goal, which was to make the party more permeable to new party actors and new issues. Given all that was happening to parties and politics in general at the time, and then in the subsequent decades, I think that's a pretty good accomplishment.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Derek Jacobi, 74. Really, imdb? Best known for Gladiator, The King's Speech, Henry V, and Underworld: Evolution? Granted, he is astonishingly good in Henry V, but then again everyone is.

No, I haven't figured out what I'm going to do about the debate/ballgame conflict tonight. But I do have plenty of good stuff in the meantime:

1. Matt Dickinson on debates, mattering, the state of the presidential race, that sort of thing.

2. John Sides tries once more to knock down the idea that gerrymandering creates partisanship.

3. While Joshua Huder argues that polarization as observed in Congressional voting is to a surprisingly large extent an artifact of chamber rules and procedures.

4. Paul Krugman points out that most people don't actually care about the federal budget deficit. Caveat: remember, Candy Crowley selected the debate questions from those submitted by the undecided voters; it's possible that some of them did ask about the deficit, but that she didn't pick those.

5. Good Nate Cohen post on the polling in Ohio.

6. Jay Ulfelder on scoring forecasts. Several good points there.

7. Brad DeLong (and Krugman) beat up on Rob Portman about China and macroeconomics.

8. And an excellent post by Sarah Binder about Congressional procedure and the fiscal cliff. Several good points, but I'll underline the one I've been making: the main problem in getting an agreement passed is divided government, not the filibuster.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the one for conservatives: I'm looking for liberals in history, especially the second half of the twentieth century, who are overlooked, underappreciated or underrated. Politicians especially, but of course you're free to include anyone you like.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Even with the election getting closer, the death of George McGovern and others this week has me thinking more about history than about the present, so: what conservatives in history (in particular, the second half of the twentieth century) do you think are underappreciated or underrated? Especially interested in politicians, but of course it's open to whatever you think.

Elsewhere: Policy Gap, Easy Voting

Hmmm, I seem to have fallen behind in linking things I write elsewhere. Here's a few.

At Plum Line on Friday, I surveyed the state of the (presidential) race. At that point, I thought that Obama had a very slim lead; don't see anything to shake that now.

Back on Thursday, I argued against a Weekly Standard assertion that early voting is a big problem because it fractures the electorate. I like fracturing the electorate! Also, I like making it easy to vote, although I disagree that easier voting would radically change outcomes.

And my Salon column this weekend is about the policy gap between Democrats and Republicans, and how it got Mitt Romney in trouble in the town hall debate.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

I feel as if I've spent too little time on Congressional elections during the last several weeks, so here's one: the steadily increasing chances for the Democrats to keep their Senate majority. And the lack of any such movement towards the Democrats on the House side, as far as I know. It's looking very much like a status quo election in Congress, at least as far as majorities are concerned.

For something that didn't matter...I don't really have much. Binders of women, maybe? Although I don't know that anyone is overrating its importance, so it's not a great choice.

What do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

That was fun!

The Giants beat the Cardinals to stay alive. Baseball is, as they say, a funny game; Barry Zito goes 7 2/3 scoreless, somehow or another, and in the best thing ever, drops down a bunt for a hit with two outs and knocks in the 4th run. 5-0 Giants, and back to China Basin for game six.

I don't have much to's postseason. It's a lot of fun. Bruce Bochy, as usual, is doing a fine job; perhaps the key to tonight's game was walking the bases loaded in the second to get to the pitcher with only one out. GIDP, and really, that was pretty much the ballgame, as it turned out.

I've been mostly turning the sound down on the TV and listening to the excellent Giants broadcast crew (out of sync, but it's still worth it -- anyone know if there's a trick to pause the MLB audio feed so I can sync up?). The real fun of the postseason so far has been listening to Mike Krukow. I only get to hear him occasionally; he rarely does radio during the season, so unless the MLB Network picks up the Giants TV feed, I don't get to hear him. I mostly think of him as just a fun guy in the booth, plus an unusual ability to pass along what it feels like to be a player. But this week and last week he's been an outstanding guide to all things pitching. Just really terrific, in my view.

The odd part is that I have no idea what the Fox crew have been yammering about. Not that I miss it. I've watched bits and pieces of the pregame and postgame coverage on MLB, but not too much. So pretty much my point of view through the series has been through the Giants broadcast team, which tends to be pretty calm and matter-of-fact, to tell the truth.

Anyway, the season is still alive. I don't know about the rest of you, but I can use the off day.

A Better Case for the Electoral College

Good for Dan Foster of the National Review, an Electoral College supporter who presses the point even though it appears that there’s an electoral bias against his preferred candidate in this cycle. However, I strongly disagree with his case:
In short, the College reflects the formal and constitutional fact that the president is elected chief executive of a union of states — federated but sovereign — and not a glomeration of people. The executive of the Constitution, of the Founders, is president of the United States, not president of America…It affirms that we vote as citizens of the several states, not mere residents of arbitrarily drawn administrative districts.
That’s a great defense for using an electoral college for the (non-existent) chief executive under the Articles of Confederation, but it doesn’t work at all under the Constitution of the United States, which is in the name of “We, the People,” and not the several states. We vote for federal offices as citizens of the United States, not as citizens of our particular states – which, after all, really do resemble “arbitrarily drawn administrative districts” quite a bit, especially outside of the original thirteen and, perhaps, Texas, at least if you squint hard enough. I mean, North and South Dakota? New Mexico and my native Arizona? Hardly. To the extent that was ever ambiguous, it was thoroughly decided by the Civil War and the subsequent amendments.

(And, no, that doesn’t kill off federalism, which has plenty of strong arguments apart from notions of sovereignty).

I’m mostly a marginal supporter of the Electoral College on other grounds, as regular readers may recall. For example, I like the Madisonian idea of overlapping but different constituencies for different offices. That case doesn't depend on any mystical reading of state's rights (why should I care that, as Foster points out, more states supported Bush than Gore? So what?). Instead, it goes back to the Framers' problem that they wanted to listen to Montesquieu, but discovered that in their Republic there were no separate estates to represent separately. There were only -- are only -- people. Nothing to be balanced!

On top of that, I still believe that the interests which benefit from the electoral college are, on balance, those that are hurt by other factors in the overall system. Currently, the states helped appear to be medium-size competitive states (Ohio most of all, but Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania are all in Nate Silver's top ten tipping point states right now). It's not as good as when California and New York were swing states, but it's still a different set than are helped by the Senate.

And I tend to think that the chances of a “wrong” result are small enough that it doesn’t bother me – just as I’m not bothered by the chance that there will be a split between the overall vote and partisan control of the House of Representatives. If there was a persistent large EC bias, that would be a different story, but it's usually under 1% and floats between the parties. If a "wrong" result happens in an otherwise very close race, I just don't see a convincing democratic case against it. I am bothered by the Senate, but alas there's nothing that can be done about that one -- and at any rate it's the malapportionment that bothers me and everyone else who complains about the Senate, not the very real possibility that even if the states were all of identical size that a party could still win a Senate majority with the minority of the overall votes.

But again: it's good to see people making arguments they support even when it goes against the short-term interests of their party.

Weird Election Results and the Fiscal Cliff

Kevin Collins tweets:
Assignment Desk: We need some speculation about the legislative bargaining implications of three not-totally-implausible election outcomes:
His three are an electoral college tie; an EC/national vote split with Barack Obama winning the electoral college; and a recount/lawsuit mess.

The first two, I think, are essentially identical to simple wins by Mitt Romney (who would presumably win a tie) and Obama. In the case of a tie, I assume that virtually every single Republican Member of the House would immediately announce support for Romney, which would assure Romney the win. In the case of a national vote/EC split favoring Obama, I'm pretty confident that the political system would treat it as a straightforward win. In neither case do I really think that the closeness of the contest would make much of a difference (yes, Republicans would presumably treat Obama as an illegitimate usurper in the latter case, but the managed to do that in 2008 anyway, so it's hard to see that an actual very close election would make much of a difference).

A split or a tie, especially a tie resulting in a Romney/Biden administration, would be a curiosity, but there's lot of precedents for quite properly treating the Constitutional scoring of an election as the real result.

What would happen if the presidency was truly unknown in November, thanks to recounts and lawsuits?

My guess is that the impulse to suspend everything and kick the can down the road for six months, at least on the big Bush tax cut and sequestration items, would be very, very, strong. It would require each side to make a major compromise: Barack Obama doesn't want to sign any further extension of Bush-era tax cuts for upper-tier taxpayers, and Republicans want spending cuts, although not exactly the ones in the sequester. But no one is going to want to thrash that out while everyone's attention is on the election outcome fight, and a lot of people would push for a rapid bridge over the "cliff." A relatively neutral delay is the easiest solution.

However, that's only if the presidency is a total unknown, and everyone agrees it's unknown. What I think gets trickier would be situations in which, say, Obama was leading in enough states but seemingly low-odds recounts or lawsuits were going on in one or more states. We might get into situations in which one party believed it would definitely emerge victorious, while the other believed the outcome was uncertain. My guess would be that those situations in which there's major disagreements between the two parties on (future) leverage would be more likely to yield a breakdown with nothing passing.

On that last scenario and its various permutations, I'm not all that confident of my analysis, and welcome other views. But on the first two: I really do think that people are overstating the potential disruption that a tie or a split would create, assuming no contested states within that.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Al Gallagher, 67. Dirty Al Gallagher; or, as I always think of him, Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher. Hmmm...first of all, I haven't looked him up for a while, and I'm sort of shocked that he three years with the Giants (plus one with the Angels). One of the illusions of youth; he lasted forever, to me. Probably because baseball began in 1969-1970 for me (1970 was his rookie year) as something I really followed, so at that point who knows which guys had been around for a while and which were brand new. Well, I mean, you learn soon enough about Willie Mays, but...I mean obviously at some point I knew how long he had been around, but it just isn't the same. More on Gallagher: what happened, anyway? Ages 24 and 25 he wasn't anything special, but he was okay, and then splat - I guess he was one of the many things that went wrong in 1972. One more note about a guy who very few of you care about: he managed in the independent leagues beginning in 1995, and continuing all the way up through 2010.

OK, that was long. On the the good stuff

1. I like this Jared Bernstein post about blogs and evidence.

2. Sarah Posner on Dinish D'Souza (a few hours before he lost his day job).

3. Great Ta-Nehisi Coates post...oh, just read it.

4. And Andrew Gelman on partisanship and charity

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Old Old Senate Update

I don't think I've said anything about this one since Tommy Thompson (71) won the GOP primary in Wisconsin. It's time for an update. Recall the basics here: Congress has been getting older and older for some time now, although there was a bit of a reversal in the current Congress from record highs. So how are things looking for the next Congress?

It looks as if the next Senate will be almost exactly as old as the current Senate.

I'm going to look at incumbent compared with most likely replacement, and I'm going to use Nate Silver's current estimates. Why? Because it's easy! But note that his program is hardly infallible; it's just a quick way to see what's going on. Ages are for January 2013.

So: leaving the Senate are Lieberman (70), Akaka (88), Bingaman (69), Conrad (64), Webb (66), Kohl (77), Snowe (65), Kyl (70), Ben Nelson (71), Hutchison (69), and Lugar (80). Also losing currently are Tester (56) and Brown (53).

Taking their places? Murphy (38), Hirono (65), Heinrich (41), Berg (53), Kaine (54), Baldwin (50), King (68), Flake (50), Fischer (61), Cruz (42), Donnelly (57), Rehberg (56), and Warren (63).

The outgoing Senators, including the two running, have an average age of 69.1; the incoming favorites average just 53.7. Wait a second...the new group is exactly 200 net years younger than the old group! How does that happen? For what it's worth...the only other turnover was Dean Heller, who is two years younger than John Ensign. So given that everyone else gets two years older (including the retiring or defeated Senators)...the next Senate would be almost identical in age in January 2013 to what the old Senate was in January 2011.

What are the key races? I count five contests thought to be reasonably close now and with an age gap over more than six years (younger candidate first):

There's a 21 year gap between Baldwin (84% likely to win via 538) and Thompson.
A 26 year gap between Murphy (74%) and McMahon.
A 10 year gap between Brown and Warren (82%).
A 13 year gap between Flake (62%) and Carmona.
A 9 year gap between Heller (71%) and Berkeley.

As much as I don't think that Tommy Thompson is a very strong candidate, I think that 84% for Tammy Baldwin is silly-high. But at any rate, it's Wisconsin and Connecticut that are going to determine how old the next Senate are, basically, at this point. By the way, overall younger candidates are doing quite well in the contested races. Whether that's an omen for the presidential election or not, I couldn't say.

Yes, Gallup Is Probably Goofy. So What?

Today's Gallup numbers? In their likely voter screen, Mitt Romney leads by a whopping 7 points, 52-45. On the other hand, they have registered voters at 48-47, with Romney barely leading. Meanwhile, Barack Obama's approval rating (measuring over three days, rather than the seven they use for head-to-head) ticks back up to 50%. Huh?

It is highly likely that something is going wrong here -- a six point gap between registered and likely voters is just too high given how many registered voters actually vote, and a 50% approval rating (and the previous three days was at 48%) really isn't consistent with getting crushed by seven points.

So what should we want to do with that number if we want to know who will win? Regular readers know my answer: what we should do with every polling number. Ignore it, and look at the polling averages and the good poll-based predictions. Really; if we were smart, we would all ignore all the individual state and national polls and just keep an eye on, say, the Pollster national average and Nate Silver's current prediction.

Everything else is just going to be running up against the limits of what the polls can really tell us.

In particular, it's a waste of time to try to piece together what's going on with Gallup. Perhaps it's some sort of screwy random effect. Perhaps they're exactly correct, and everyone else is wrong. Perhaps they just have a lousy likely voter screen.

It doesn't really matter. Toss it into the soup, and that's the end of it. And, yes, I definitely do think that those who are doing the polls-of-polls should certainly be including Gallup, even though it's very likely something weird is going on. Of course.

Now, do I take this advice? Well...not exactly. I click over to Gallup every day when the numbers change. But I do feel quite foolish every time I do it. And I am most definitely avoiding as best I can complaints from both sides about polls being slanted against them. Toss it in the pot, and that's the end of it.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Chuck Berry, 86.

Some good stuff:

1. A twofer: Irin Carmon interviews the woman who asked the question about pay equity at the debate; and Jamelle Bouie debates Buzz Bissinger.

2. To complement those: John Sides on undecided voters.

3. Another twofer: Ezra Klein reads the debate transcript, parts one and two.

4. TPC lets you play with tax reform ideas.

5. And Paul Waldman looked deeper at debate questions than I did, but had the same conclusion: no evidence of bias, and the perception of bias was probably produced by the bunching of tough questions for Romney at an early point in the debate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Elsewhere: Romney/Bush, First Read

At Greg's place, I wrote about Romney and Bush's similar platforms, and one difference: there's a policy gap. Bush had some, in 2000.

And at PostPartisan, I wasn't happy at all with First Read, which claimed to know what Romney and Obama were really thinking during the debate. Oy, First Read!

That's it for now; time to concentrate on the game in St. Louis for a while.

Are We Crazy Yet?

Tim Murphy says that "we're all slowly going insane," but I'm not so sure. The occasion is a PPP poll which finds that everyone predicts one thing: fraud by the other side.
-In Ohio 62% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 50% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.

-In Florida 60% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 55% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.

-In North Carolina 69% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 51% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.
Recall that plenty of liberals believed relatively far-fetched (and false, I should add) conspiracy theories about voting machines in 2004, although at least that election was close enough that it at least it was plausible that had someone done something it might have made a difference; recall that plenty of conservatives actually reported believing that the 2008 election was stolen by ACORN, even though that one was entirely implausible (and, once again, false).

So I'm not sure what to make of it all. It's really easy to make a gloom-and-doom pronouncement about how the Republic is finished because no one believes in elections any more. On the other hand, it could be that surveys would have produced exactly the same results throughout US history. Maybe we've always been equally insane! And at any rate, the question as asked ("Do you think Democrats/Republicans will engage in voter fraud to ensure that Barack Obama wins the election, or not?") could be interpreted relatively benignly as simply asking whether the other party, or at least some in the other party, will attempt whatever it can get away with. That's no conspiracy thinking -- it's probably true!

I don't know...I fully expect that if Barack Obama wins a reasonably close race, a good number of GOP opinion leaders will claim that he illegally stole the election, and the people who listen to them will believe it. I expect, too, that if Mitt Romney wins a very close race, a fair number of rank-and-file Democrats will buy into claims that Republicans stole the election. And, yeah, I would expect some difference; I would expect far fewer mainstream Democratic politicians and other opinion leaders to go whole-hog conspiracy than I expect Republican politicians would if it's reversed. Whether that constitutes a threat to the Republic,'s probably worth keeping an eye on, but probably not at these levels.

The Debate Questions? Fair

There's an early consensus that, in the words of Jonathan Chait, "Obama enjoyed friendly questions from an audience that obviously leaned left" in the second debate. Naturally, conservatives agree. I thought the questions favored Obama during the debate, but a second look convinced me that it's wrong: the questions were about as fair as it gets.

From the "Town Hall" audience questions, I count three that were solidly pro-Obama and one that was somewhat pro-Obama; three solidly pro-Romney and one somewhat pro-Romney; and three neutral ones.

So, why the false impression? I think it was because of the sequence; the three great questions for Obama were the third, fourth, and fifth questions overall, and there was no similar sustained block of pro-Romney questions to break the illusion. What's more, Obama was doing a better job overall, which made good Romney questions seem less biting and good Obama questions more obvious. But at any rate, it was an illusion.

Okay, the breakdown (transcript here). I'll start with the great ones for Obama: one that challenged Romney to detail which deductions he would get rid of for middle class voters; one on the topic of pay equity for women; and one which challenged Romney to differentiate himself from George W. Bush. Now, there's really no excuse for Romney not having a great answered prepared for the two challenge questions -- he did not -- but I think it's fair to call those questions which Barack Obama should have been happy to hear.

But they were matched by three great ones for Romney. First, an energy question:
Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?
Later, and parallel to the Romney/Bush question, a challenge that Obama's presidency has been a disappointment:
Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I'm not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.
As with Bush/Romney, that's one that sets up well for a strong comeback, but it still frames the Obama presidency exactly how Romney and Paul Ryan have often framed it.

The third one was the Libya question:
We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?
Not only could Romney not have asked for better wording, but he also should have been thrilled that there was only one foreign policy question asked the whole time -- and that one question was on Libya. Of course, in the event, this question was Romney's most talked-about botch, but it wasn't because of the question.

I scored two questions as marginally useful, one for each campaign. The gun control question probably was asked by a liberal (the question was about banning "assault weapons"), but it was asked as a challenge to Obama, and it's generally a topic which Republicans would much rather see raised. On the other hand was the question on immigration, which is a topic thought in this cycle to favor Democrats. So one question each which somewhat favored the candidate.

And three questions seemed neutral to me. The final question was about misperceptions of the candidates, and was clearly neutral. Then there were two questions about jobs. The very first question was about the bleak outlook for jobs for college graduates; late in the debate one of the undecided voters asked about outsourcing. One could score the overall topic as good for Romney, but given how central jobs is to the campaign, two questions on the topic seems pretty reasonable, and neither was framed in any particular partisan way. "The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?"

So three great questions for each candidate, one good one for each (although both asked from a liberal point of view), and three neutral ones, albeit two which were basically on turf Romney wants to be on. I'm open to anyone who wants to challenge my characterizations, but I just don't see it. Whatever the makeup of the undecided voters, the questions Candy Crowley chose from them seemed about as balanced as it could get.

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