The original version of the ratings built in an exception for what I termed "liberal nos": votes that a Democratic member cast against his party's agenda, but which he justified by stating that the policy under consideration was not liberal enough. We did not count the liberal no votes as yes votes -- we just threw them out, treating them as non-votes instead.
But what if we don't build in an exception for the so-called "liberal no's" -- that is, simply take every vote at face value? It turns out, then, that Davis is no longer the least valuable Democrat. Instead, it is Dennis Kucinich, who voted against health care, the hate crimes bill, the budget, the cap-and-trade bill, and financial regulation -- all ostensibly from the left -- in spite of coming from from the strongly Democratic Ohio 10th district near Cleveland.
(Note: votes with the black outline around them are those that we had originally classified as liberal no's.)
Kucinich's score of -4.22 is not only worse than that of any other Democrat: it is also worse than that of all but 22 Republicans.
Obviously, I think a reasonable case can be made to build in an exception for opposition from the left, which is why I did so in the first place. On the other hand, the fact is that Kucinich isn't taking just the occasional symbolic stand: he's voting against his party on key agenda items about half the time. Perhaps by so doing, he's moving the Overton Window to the left, or perhaps he's just being a pain in the butt. We crunch numbers, you decide!
1. No, it isn't clear that the Democrats ever had 50 votes for the public option in the Senate. A couple of people have cited this list by Jane Hamsher, but that list interprets several ambiguous statements as yesses, includes some purported yes votes who actually voted against the public option in committee, and includes others (like Jay Rockefeller) who have said they support the public option, but not through the reconciliation process. A newer, fresher whip count on Senators who support including a public option in a reconciliation bill is now at 41 votes -- which reflects a lot of progress but obviously remains somewhat short of a majority.
2. It's also not clear that anyone connected with the Democratic leadership ever actually said (before Scott Brown was elected) that the public option had 50 votes in the Senate (but fewer than 60). Until Glenn Greenwald, et. al. can actually provide a link to someone who made a statement like this to the press (it wouldn't surprise me if they can, but they haven't yet), they're basically arguing against a strawman.
3. It's further unclear clear that the public option currently has the votes in the House. Obviously it did at one point, since a bill passed the chamber in November with a public option included. But that bill was passed with only two votes to spare, and there has since been attrition in the Democratic caucus. In addition, with several members of the Stupak block likely to switch their votes from yes to no, Nancy Pelosi will have to recruit several new members to replace them. With the lone exception of Dennis Kucinich, the only available targets are those who opposed the bill from the right.
4. Having said all that, it's also not clear that the public option doesn't have the votes, since a lot of Congressmen have uncommitted or ambiguous positions. My sense is that the votes probably could be whipped in the Senate, but that the House would be problematic depending on the size of the Stupak block.
5. The various comments made by Pelosi, Durbin, et. al. are indeed pretty lame and circular, but probably reflect something like the following:
Pelosi and Durbin/Reid aren't certain whether the public option has the votes or not. What they're not about to do is spend a lot of time whipping for it when (a) health care is a heavy enough lift as is; (b) there's only downside in terms of the vote-counting, since only Kucinich opposed the bill from the left whereas 38 Democrats did from the right, and (c) there's arguably as much political downside as upside, since even though the public option as narrowly construed is popular, it also makes the bill identifiably more "liberal" at a time when Democrats are trying (with some success, in fact) to frame both the process and the substance of the bill as bipartisan and moderate.
You can certainly argue that Pelosi has made the wrong calculation -- and you can certainly argue that she should be offering a more robust and honest assessment of her calculation to the public, since the people who care about this stuff are über-high information voters who quickly parse through bullshit. But it also isn't just a matter of willpower. A full-throttle effort to whip votes for the public option might succeed, or it might fail. The leadership has decided that it would invite too much trouble to find out.
What I mean by that is a contest between Ehrlich and incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley would control for a lot of the candidate/campaign effects and environmental factors and thus isolate the generic net effect on shifting partisan fortunes since 2008 or, I suppose, 2006.
- 1. For starters, Ehrlich-O'Malley would be a rematch of the 2006 gubernatorial election, so the nominees would be the same (at least at the top of the ticket). Ehrlich would the challenger rather than the incumbent this time, but both men can point to one full term of service when making their case.
- 2. So far at least, there are no major personal or political scandals brewing that would drag down one or the other candidate in a way that would compound or ameliorate expected Democratic problems this fall.
- 3. Even with a late entrance to the race, Ehrlich should be able to raise sufficient funds to be competitive in a way many challengers are not.
- 4. Maryland hasn't been a swing presidential state in a long, long time, so any effects of recent field investments by either the Bush 2004 or Obama 2008 campaigns are probably negligible.
- 5. Popular Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski is up for re-election this year, which could provide some tailwinds for O'Malley, but that advantage could be mitigated by Republican enthusiasm and investments in the Maryland 1st District House race rematch between Republican Andy Harris and rookie Democratic incumbent Frank Kratovil--one of the GOP's top House targets this cycle. (John McCain carried MD1 by about 20 points.)
- 6. The Maryland GOP has long lagged behind the state Democratic party and has endured some recent troubles, but having former chairman and Ehrlich lt. governor Michael Steele heading the Republican National Committee 30 miles away can't hurt. Relatedly, expect the Republican Governor's Association to move resources into Maryland if Ehrlich declares his candidacy.
- 7. The roughly 10-point swing between Ehrlich's 4-point victory in 2002 over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and his 6-point loss to O'Malley in 2006 is roughly the same as the swing nationally between Bush's 2004 3-point victory and McCain's 7-point defeat.
- 8. As far as state-level fiscal angst, Maryland's projected 2010 mid-year budget gap of 6.8 percent is almost identical to the 6.6 percent national average, and its 20.4 percent overall FY10 projected budget gap is close to, if somewhat below, the national average of 28.6 percent. So Maryland is not an outlier in terms of the degree to which its state fiscal situation is exacerbating broader economic worries.
- 9. Finally, and I think perhaps most relevant, is the fact that this is a governor's race. The federal races for House and Senate are more obviously and closely tied to dissatisfaction with what's happening in Washington. Governors and gubernatorial candidates around the country will no doubt be asked to express their opinions about issues like the stimulus and health care reform. But I suspect governors' races will be better indicators of overall partisan shifts since either 2008 or the last midterm cycle.
Overall, with a 6-point victory in 2006 and four years to build on it, if O'Malley loses that will say a lot about the breadth of voter anger. Maryland's result will not be a perfect partisan referendum, but it has a lot of hallmarks of a microcosmic result.
The so-called Gerry-Mander (original 1812 Boston Centinel comic of a Gerry-designed district reproduced above) has stood the test of time, and continues to reflect modern day constituency boundaries. Indeed, today's Massachusetts District 4 (represented by House Financial Services chair Barney Frank) is quite reminiscent of the old Gerry monster, as derided by the Colbert Report's ongoing "Better Know a District" segment.
With redistricting dominated by the majority parties of state legislatures after each census, and racial or ethnically defined districts upheld after court challenge as protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Colbert is not alone in mocking the system.
Unfortunately, gerrymandering is not a phenomenon unique to Massachusetts or the U.S., but instead a product of the "first past the post" voting system, which was inherited by the U.S. -- among most other British colonies and territories -- from the U.K.
If district drawing in the U.S. today is an exercise in power and ethnic politics, than constituency drawing for the U.K. House of Commons is an exercise in futility.
Rather than allowing political state legislatures draw the boundaries, the British system uses periodic non-partisan panels that are symbolically chaired by the speaker of the House of Commons. Seperate boundary commissions are used for each of the four constituent U.K. nations/provinces, though overall allocation of seats has Parliamentary guidelines (for example, at least 35 seats in Wales and 16-18 in Northern Ireland regardless of population).
Every ten years or so, the boundary commissions endeavour to update and improve the 650 or so constituencies in the House of Commons, taking account for the changing nature of urban, suburban and rural settlements in Britain.
While non-partisan and oestensibly neutral, the UK boundary commisions are quit handicapped when it comes to designing new districts. National law requires them to consider a long line of factors that have conspired to make the constituency boundaries in the U.K. one of the most skewed in Europe.
1. All four boundary review commissions must use the same census data, and because the commissions to take years to complete their work results in maps that are heavily out of date. For example, the 2005 General election was waged using boundaries that in England were based on population figures from the year 1990. While they will be updated for the upcoming election, this will still only bring them up to speed with the 2000 population estimates.
2. At the same time, election law requires that local government and county boundaries be respected when drawing House of Commons boundaries whenever possible. Of course, counties, towns and cities are of varying sizes, political stripes and ethnic makeup, but tend to concentrate particular communities within MP constituencies rather than cut between them.
3. Some historic and/or prestigious constituencies are informally protected from major changes, while others are protected by law. As a consequence, islands like the Isle of Wight or the Western Isles in Scotland are guaranteed their own seat regardless of population. In the former case this means a constituency with substantially more people (110,000) than the 70,000 person average, and in the latter case far fewer than average.
4. As mentioned above, Wales and Northern Ireland are guaranteed certain minimum number of MPs, 35 and 16 respectively. Scotland was previously guaranteed 72 MPs, until the 1998 Scotland Act reduced the number to 59 in an effort to harmonize the MP to population with England's.
Some similar problems also exist in the United States. Because population for House districts is only equalized within states and not between them, there is substantial variation in district sizes, tending to favor rural and low-population states. Also, many states have concentrated urban districts (NY-8, 12, 14) or districts encompass particular minority communities (IL-4).
At the same time, the U.S. has often seen substantial shifts in population over the decade the lines are in use. In general, shifts in representation from the historical population centers in the northeast to southern and western states has lagged far behind the movement of people.
In the end, though, the effects tend to cancel one another out. While the first two largely harm the Democrats, the latter makes up for it as the Republican areas and states tend to be the ones seeing the most growth.
In the UK by contrast, the net effect of these aspects of the mapping system is one-sided against the Conservatives. The Conservatives have little presence in Scotland (where they hold 1 out of 59 seats) or Wales, and the result of a commitment to communities of interest is to pack them into fewer seats. Furthermore, population movement is such that they always benefit from redistributions, and therefore suffer disproportionately from the always out-of-date lines.
As a result, electoral reform has become a signifcant issue in this year's House of Commons election, with interests for every party.
For the Liberal Democrats, as we discussed, a more third party friendly system, such the Alternative Vote (ranked voting) or their preferred system of Proportional Representation, would reward their national support. In the case of Labour, the Alternative Vote could also be favorable, as it generously lets Liberal Dem voters cast their second ballots for Gordon Brown’s party.
For the Conservatives, however, the key is a reform of the boundary system in a manner similar to their proposition to the House of Lords in 2009. This would mean introducing a national quota for electorate sizes, synchronizing boundary reviews with the census, and potentially changing the way electorate sizes are calculated from population to eligible voters.
As such, the nature of the boundary commissions and the voting system are rapidly becoming part of the election campaign itself, especially with the media focused on whether the Conservatives will be able to win with what currently looks like a five to six point lead.
If the result is a Conservative popular vote victory but with Labour as the largest party, it is likely that there will be substantial public blame attached to the system of boundary review and first past the post voting. However, much like the disputed 2000 Presidential election in the United States, a single electoral event of this sort is not sufficient to drive major system change. While a referendum on the Alternative Vote is likely to happen in the forseeable future, the issue of boundary commissions will remain ham-strung unless a Conservative-led Parliament passes a major reform bill. Even in this case, it would be several electoral cycles before the changes took hold, leaving the system open for additional changes.
Much like other electoral issues, boundaries and vote counting systems are pulled between the competing poles of societal ideals of democracy, fairness and representation, and the political expediancy of power and the tyranny of the majority. In both the U.S. and the U.K. it is clear that they each have a significant pull on the political outcomes and resulting policies. With an election at hand, though, in the U.K. at least, political expediancy is likely to rule the roost for at least the next few months.
This article was co-authored by international affairs columnist Renard Sexton and research assistant Dan Berman. Please send comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional information on FiveThirtyEight's coverage of the United Kingdom 2010 General Election can be found here.
Rasmussen, thus far, has a Republican-leaning house effect of about 5 and 1/2 points. So if Rasmussen, for example, has a Republican leading by 7 points in a particular race, an average pollster would have the Republican ahead by only 1 or 2 points. Research 2000, on the other hand, has a Democratic-leaning house effect of about 4 1/2 points. If they show an R+7 in a particular race, it would be the equivalent of an R+11 or an R+12 from an average pollster. These are, obviously, very large differences: it implies that if Research 2000 and Rasmussen were to poll the same race, we'd expect about a 10 point difference between them.
It's extremely important to emphasize that just because a pollster has a house effect doesn't mean that it's wrong. They may result from legitimate differences of opinion about how to conduct surveys. Rasmussen, for instance, is one of the few pollsters to already be employing a likely voter model at this point. It's not uncommon for likely voter polls to have comparatively better results for Republicans, since Democrats rely on votes from groups like young voters and minorities who turn out less reliably in midterm elections. (And, indeed, Republicans appear to have an especially significant enthusiasm advantage in this cycle.)
What it does mean, though, is that when you're evaluating the polls in a particular race, you need to take an especially long look at who's conducting them. If you tell me that the latest poll has the Republican up by two points in Colorado, that's going to mean one thing if it's Research 2000 telling me that and quite another if it's Rasmussen. Unfortunately, just a couple of pollsters have been very dominant this cycle. Rasmussen and Research 2000 alone collectively account for over half of the polls in my Senate database, and the fraction jumps to 67 percent if you include Public Policy Polling (which hasn't had much of a house effect) as well.
By the way: when I publish something like this, my intent is not to chide the various pollsters into some kind of orthodoxy -- I frankly like the difference of opinion! But it's been a large difference of opinion so far this year, and if it carries forward to Election Day, the pollsters might have almost as much on the line in November as the candidates.
But if there was cause to do any bullying of Massa it was not because of his voting patterns but because of the potential harm he might do in exacerbating the Democrats' mounting electoral problems this fall.
Indeed, when the assorted and sordid allegations about Massa groping or acting in sexually inappropriate ways with staffers began to come to light, one couldn't help but recall Republican Rep. Mark Foley's September 2006 resignation. To be sure, there are fundamental differences between the details of Massa and Foley incidents, as Time's Jay Newton-Small and others have correctly noted. But now there is another key distinction, one of great political-electoral import as the November midterms approach: The Massa story-bomb exploded in March, not September.
More to the point, if Massa had been acting like a Blue Dog despite representing some liberal or at least safe Democratic district in which Democrats might replace him with a suitably loyal substitute, that would make sense in terms of expressing ire about his defections. But Massa won--barely and after two attempts--in a traditionally Republican district that is likely to flip back to the GOP now.
That said, and given that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer knew about Massa's odd behavior at least as early as the second week of February--and, presumably and by extension, so too did both Hoyer's boss Nancy Pelosi and Hoyer's former House leadership colleague Emanuel--it's not unreasonable to conclude that House Democrats and the White House (a) realized Massa could present a political problem for them later; and thus (b) wanted him out as soon as possible. In fact, the person who best understands the potential political-electoral implications of a ticking Massa timebomb exploding in autumn is none other than Emanuel; as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair in 2006, he benefited most from the Foley story going national that September and has since been lionized as the man who delivered Democrats to the majority promise land.
I'm not claiming Hoyer or Emanuel did anything to move the story along. Indeed, after what we've witnessed in recent days, perhaps all that worried Democrats on Capitol Hill or in the White House needed to was stand aside and watch as Massa implode on national television, as he did on Glen Beck's show last night.
But given the lingering questions about whether Emanuel had some role in putting out the Foley story on the eve of the 2006 midterms, I suspect that the political story in the next week may turn from the subject of whether or not Democrats like Emanuel "bullied" Massa about his votes but whether, once Massa's staffers approached Hoyer, there was an effort to ex-Foleyate congressional Democrats by cleansing themselves of Massa as soon as possible. (Yes, I've been dying to drop that pun.) After all, we know certain congressional Republicans had at least some prior knowledge of Foley's scuzzy behaviors, and yet the GOP simply hoped the media would never find out. (Or they banked on the Democrats being too soft to do anything about it which, by the way, if Emanuel was somehow involved in Foley's political outing, disproves the longstanding assumption that Democrats don't have the guts to play hardball.)
By the way, let's not underestimate the catalytic effect of such a story breaking at just the worst moments for a party. In 2006, a few weeks after the midterm elections which cost the Republicans their House majority, I attended a political conference at Northern Virginia Community College sponsored by the Cook Political Report. During his remarks, a top staffer from the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee--sorry, his name escapes me and my audio files have long since been deleted--said he remembered to the minute the exact moment in September 2006 when he first learned about the Foley page scandal. He said the entire staff of the NRCC, which at that point believed it had gained sufficient momentum during August and early September to perhaps limit Republican losses enough to maintain GOP control, was devastated and deflated.
Before the story began to unravel on him, Massa said he was resigning because he learned he had cancer. The fact is, he was fast becoming a cancer--or at least a potential electoral cancer for Democrats if he stayed in office and the story broke in the closing weeks of the autumn campaign.
Overall, we have Democrats projected to lose an additional 4.1 seats in November, which would take their number down to 54.9. This is essentially unchanged from January's forecast, when we had the Democrats retaining 54.7 seats. Republicans' chances of picking up the 10 seats they'd need to control an outright majority of the Senate remain somewhat remote for the time being, on the order of 5-10 percent according to our model. They will almost certainly need one more recruiting coup -- Wisconsin may be the most likely -- and then will have to run the table everywhere else, including some states like Missouri and Ohio where they're defending seats themselves.
Detail on each of the remaining 36 Senate races follows, but a few notes before we begin.
-- House effects have continued to be very large this cycle. In particular, Rasmussen Reports has had something like a 5-point house effect in favor of Republican candidates, which has a fairly tangible impact on the overall characterization of the Senate picture because of how frequently they poll. Although Rasmussen may well prove to be correct about this cycle -- note that they use a likely voter model when few other pollsters do -- the idea is not to let them flood the zone simply by being more prolific than other pollsters; our model is designed to correct for these effects. Note that some other pollsters, such as Research 2000, have had strong Democratic-leaning house effects; our model adjusts for this as well.
-- We have Tommy Thompson and George Pataki at about even-money if they decide to enter their respective races, with Dino Rossi probably being a slight underdog in Washington State. Although some pollsters have shown leads for these candidates, they tend to be pollsters with Republican-leaning house effects.
-- In many states, there's still quite a lot of guesswork to do about the identity of the respective candidates. The Republicans, in general, would benefit from picking candidates backed by their establishment. For Democrats, on the other hand, there is generally little difference between the numbers of the establishment candidate and the challengers.
-- The Democrats should really be thought of as starting out from a baseline of 58 seats, since the Republicans' chances of taking over North Dakota are virtually 100 percent. Democrats have a small but tangible chance of making a race of it in Delaware, on the other hand.
-- I personally think the notion that Democrats are 2:1 favorites in Illinois is a bit too optimistic, but we're going on the basis of the objective evidence to date rather than trying to anticipate the ultimate impact of issues like Alexi Giannoulias' banking problems.
A complete statistical rundown follows in a format that should hopefully be fairly transparent to everyone. Note that the numbers attached to each race are projections of the November outcome and not simply polling averages. For additional detail on methodology, please see January's article. Races are ranked in order of their likelihood of changing parties.
Beck's apology followed repeated attempts to get Massa to name names or provide some juicy nugget about President Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Democrats or, really, any of the people he claims "forced him out" of office--as Massa, who resigned his seat yesterday, has repeatedly claimed. As for his own behavior, Massa insisted that he never groped anyone, "did nothing illegal or sexually inappropriate" but admitted he used inappropriate language and must "own this misbehavior."
Beck pressed him to go further, asking Massa if there would be other shoes to drop--emails or phone messages or text messages to come that will embarrass Massa. "I'm sure there are text messages," said Massa. Ruh-roh.
Massa continued to lodge generic complaints about the behavior of the White House, Emanuel's in particular. "He made it very clear that I better vote with the President," said Massa of Emanuel's attempts to pressure Massa into voting for healthcare reform. Massa said he regrets saying during a recent appearance on his radio show that Emanuel "would tie his own children to the railroad tracks" to get a vote from Congress, but then added sarcastically that Emanuel would only tie Massa's children to the tracks to gain a vote. Open mouth, remove foot presently lodged there, insert other foot.
Meanwhile, Massa spent a lot of breath complaining about--this just in!--the poisoning effect partisanship is having on our political system; he called for an end to hyper-partisanship. At one point he said he identifies with Tea Partiers because he is a fiscal conservative, but that they can't go to rallies pretending that the national debt somehow started in 2009.
By the end, however, a frustrated Beck clearly had heard enough of Massa's vague and shopworn complaints--he depicted the whip system in Congress as corruption--and his lack of any real evidence to back up his public charges. Turning directly to the camera to address his viewers, Beck confessed, "I think I've wasted an hour of your time." It was one of the most honest moments I have ever seen on television.
It's hard to out-crazy Glenn Beck, whose show is sponsored by the Yoshi Knife, and gold brokers running ads featuring Gordon Liddy and the dude Matt Damon chumped down in the famous bar scene from Good Will Hunting. But this afternoon, Massa did just that.
At this point, Crist has essentially four things he could do. He could take his lumps continue to run for Senate as a Republican, hoping for a turnaround. He could run for Senate as an independent, as many have speculated. He could run for a second term as governor instead -- the filing deadline isn't until April 30th. Or he could quit and go work on his tan. Let's examine each of these alternatives.
Option 1. Continue to run for Senate as Republican.
Probability of success. Quite low, with the Republican primary of course being the most significant hurdle. Although primaries are significantly more volatile than general elections, Crist now faces an enormous deficit with Rubio and has none of the momentum, and there's no longer all that much time left as the primary takes place in August. I can't imagine he has more than a 1 in 10 chance of pulling it out -- mostly based on the contingency that some huge scandal develops around Rubio. The good news is that Crist would probably still win the general election if he managed to come back in the primary, although he's yet to reach 50 percent in most polls against Democrat Kendrick Meek.
Upside if successful. Being a Senator is a fun job! But if some sort of scandal had developed around Rubio -- likely the only way that Crist wins -- Florida Republicans would only vote for him only though gritted teeth and national ones might be irked with him for the sense that he'd taken out one of their up-and-comers. It's unlikely that he'd be a serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination any time soon and would have to wait out the current political climate instead.
Downside if unsuccessful. Depends on the extent to which he goes strongly negative on Rubio, in which case he might permanently injure his credibility with Republicans, and the extent to which he tries to portray himself as a staunch conservative, which might harm his credibility with independent voters if the needle moves more back toward the center in some future election cycle.
Option 2. Run for Senate as Independent.
Probability of success. Decent; two polls have tested this and found, essentially, a three-way tie between Crist, Rubio and Meek. There are some additional structural disadvantages that Crist would face: it's tougher to raise money as an independent, for instance. Some bad narrative might also develop around the fact that he was a flip-flopper and/or that he had backed down from Rubio. If I were advising Crist, I'd tell him to really embrace the independent label if he made the switch: do a lot of TV, criticize the polarization in the country, criticize the extremism in the Republican Party, say you won't caucus with either party if you get elected to the Senate, etc. etc. This would be a message mostly targeted to center-left voters, which is where the swing votes would be in a three-way election since Rubio would still presumably clean up with Republicans.
Upside if successful. Quite high. You'd be one of the lead stories of the cycle and there would be a lot of buzz around a Presidential bid as an independent in either 2012 or 2016. And you'd continue to command a lot of attention as a perpetual swing vote in the Senate.
Downside if unsuccessful. If you came very close, perhaps not that bad, as you'd still become something of an icon for voters (and pundits) who were fed up with the two major parties. If it went really badly, though, you'd have managed to confuse and offend just about everyone with little to show for it.
Option 3. Run for Re-Election as Governor.
Probability of success. Fairly low, actually. The same PPP poll that found Crist trailing Rubio by 32 points also found him trailing Bill McCollum, the leading Republican candidate for governor, by 14. That's not quite as bad a deficit to overcome, but it doesn't account for the additional annoyance voters might feel if Crist switched races, which could come across as entitled and presumptuous. In addition, the general election could get tricky, as Crist's approval ratings are tepid and as Democratic candidate Alex Sink -- although now trailing McCollum in most polls -- is considered a decent candidate.
Upside if successful. I'd think that being governor of a state as large (and sunny) as Florida would be a better job than being one of 100 senators in Washington, although Crist apparently felt differently enough to have been motivated to switch races in the first place. Crist would have a chance to rebound along with Florida's economy and some reasonably flexible choices later on.
Downside if unsuccessful. There's the potential for more embarrassment than if Crist just ran for Senate instead, since (i) he'd have been voted out of office as an incumbent; (ii) he'd essentially look like a loser twice over for having given up on his Senate bid and then lost the governor's race as well.
Option 4. Give up and work and work on your tan.
Probability of success. You can't lose!
Upside. You don't have to endure a stressful campaign and the gaffes, etc. it might entail. You can avoid the embarrassment of taking a loss. Republican thought leaders who have a lukewarm impression of you might be more likely to return your phone calls if you'd withdrawn from the race with your dignity still attached made things easy on Rubio.
Downside. You'd still look like something of a quitter and wouldn't get to benefit from any of the free media exposure that a high-profile campaign entails. You wouldn't have a job.
If I had to rank these options on Crist's behalf, they'd probably go #2, #4, #1, #3. Running for Senate as in independent is his best chance to be an elected office-holder when January 2011 rolls around and his best chance to remain someone at the center of the national conversation. If Crist wants to limit his downside, of course, then taking the cycle off would be the safest choice, although it's not clear where he'd go from there.
Of course, the 25 wealthiest counties today—measured in terms of median household income—are not identical to the 25 at the time of the 1990 Census. Maryland and Virginia together now claim 11 of the top 25 combined (up from 7), including six of the top 10; since 1990, Alaska, New Jersey and New York lost 7 total counties from the list.*
Comparing the presidential voting results 20 years apart, there are some interesting differences and patterns. First, all of the counties voted more Democratic in 2008 than in 1988. Democrat Barack Obama won 16 of the 25, while Democrat Michael Dukakis carried just 5 of the (current) 25 richest.
Second, because there is about a 14-point swing between George HW Bush's 7-point 1988 victory and Obama's 7-point victory two decades later, a more revealing barometer is how many of the 25 counties swung by 14 or more points. Answer: 20 of them. That is, they aren't just bluer than they were 20 years ago; they have outpaced the national shift toward the Democrats, at least between those two elections.
Third, in general the bluer these counties started out 20 years the bigger the Democratic gain. That adds yet further confirmation that we are increasingly a nation of people who self-segregrate in ways that make partisanship more geographically homogeneous. In 2000, 36 percent of counties voted at least 60 percent for either George W. Bush or Al Gore; by 2004, that figure had jumped to 44 percent. (I can't seem to find the figure for 2008.)**
As for all of those Maryland and Virginia counties, well, their presence is obviously attributable in part to the concentration of federal employees, consultants and contractors in the area. (Maybe this is what Americans are complaining about when they say they think half of all spending is "wasted"?) They are also rich counties in rich states, as are most of the 25. Income differences do affect partisan voting patterns in rich states, but as Gelman demonstrates very early on Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, income matters even more in the poorer states.
One final note about all those rich counties in and around DC: Their location in or proximity to Maryland may make it easier for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich to pull together sufficient funding for a last-minute run against incumbent Democrat Martin O'Malley. The University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship has a neat little report discussing the fundraising patterns of both men four years ago; in it, among other findings, CAPC chronicles the rapidly growing fundraising totals in MD gubernatorial races over the past two decades. The report also notes that the rich DC-area counties contributed significant sums to both Ehrlich and O'Malley.
Rich counties and rich states may be bluer at the ballot box, but the money they pour into races for either Republicans or Democrats is still green.
*N.B.: The two Fairfax entries is not an error: The first is Fairfax County; the second the independent city (Virginia has them all over the state) of Fairfax.
**Correction: I misstated that statistic. It should say that 44 percent of voters lived in counties that went 60 percent for either Kerry or Bush in 2004, not 44 percent of the counties. (Obviously, not all counties have the same population.) My friend, colleague and sometimes co-author Phil Klinkner of Hamilton College was kind enough to correct me on this point, and also to give me the stat for 2008: 49 percent of voters lived in counties that voted 60 percent or more for either Obama or McCain. So the trend continues.
Gordon Brown spent a relatively quiet Friday at the Chilcot Inquiry and made few waves. Quite confident, yet sufficiently apologetic for the loss of life that has accompanied the Iraq conflict, Brown's performance received a grudging nod from most of the UK media. He is not likely to have won any new supporters, however, by simply holding the line for the New Labour hawks of the early 2000s.
At the same time, David Cameron and the Tories were knocked a bit on their heels by news that their biggest donor and Conservative deputy party chairman Lord Ashcroft was a so-called "non-dom" who does not pay UK taxes on his billionaire's wealth. With dual citizenship in the former South American British territory Belize, Ashcroft promised to end his non-domiciled status in 2000 in order take up his peerage in the House of Lords. The main critique has been that in the last week, Cameron's responses have been weak and equivical. Basically, he hoped the whole thing would blow over -- and certainly it will -- but with it likely goes some portion of the Conservatives waning momentum.
Saturday oestensibly marked the two month mark ahead of the UK vote. Here at FiveThirtyEight we will now be kicking our coverage of the election into high gear, launching about nine weeks of regular coverage.
One new feature will be a set of background posts from myself and two newly added FiveThirtyEight research assistants. The goal is to provide some useful descriptive detail on the UK electoral system, campaign styles, key players and articles of controversy for our US-based and international audience.
The descriptive backgrounders will support a series of analytic pieces that will be more in line with the FiveThirtyEight 'examine-and-project' style.
The next few topics to be discussed in the next 8 weeks:
1. Boundary systems in the UK and US: Similarities, differences and why it matters in this elections. (12 March 2010)
2. Independent voters in the UK election: Whichever party wins this year's UK general elections will likely have swing voters to thank for it. As Nate pointed out last fall, though, this is a tautology: whichever party wins an election has by definition captured the swing vote. In the 2010 UK General, how do these voters break down?
3. The "Built-In Labour Bias": Boundary commissions, tactical voting, or mythology? We will pick apart which elements are relevant and which political rhetoric in a 2010 context.
4. Projecting the outcome of the election: With reputable pollsters and smart poll aggregators, why is there so much question about the outcome of the election? We will examine what is needed to effectively project individual constituencies, along with the national party share numbers.
We have tackled a few issues already, for those who have not been following the series closely.
1. A Hung Parliament (From the Gallows, Perhaps?): Basic electoral information and history from the past 25 years.
2. Instant Run-Off Proposed by Brown: Considerations of the Alternative Vote proposal, and how it might play in this election.
3. For UK Conservatives, It's the MP Ratio that Matters: Translating national horse race numbers into shares of the final allocationo of MPs is always a challenge in the UK. This article looks at why it matters.
Update: In addition to our articles here at FiveThirtyEight, I'll be doing a series of posts at the Guardian's Comment is Free: link here
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight's international affairs columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that economic conditions continued to expand since the last report, although severe snowstorms in early February held back activity in several Districts. Nine Districts reported that economic activity improved, but in most cases the increases were modest. Overall conditions were described as mixed in the Atlanta and St. Louis Districts, though St. Louis noted further signs of improvement in some areas. Richmond reported that economic activity slackened or remained soft across most sectors, due importantly to especially severe February weather in that region.
Let's go to the data to get some more detail.
Consumer spending showed signs of improvement in many Districts since the last report but was hampered in several regions by severe weather conditions in early February. Retail sales improved in the Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts, and New York said sales were well above year-ago levels in January and met expectations in February despite inclement weather. Philadelphia also reported that sales were moving up slowly until snowstorms hit in February. Boston and Cleveland characterized sales as mixed but slightly higher overall than year ago levels. Sales were lower than expected in the Atlanta and Kansas City Districts and were down from year-ago levels in the St. Louis District. Several Districts reported that sales were strongest for lower-priced items, while sales of luxury and big ticket items remained sluggish. However, San Francisco noted scattered reports of increased discretionary spending, and Cleveland said some retailers noted a broader, if still slight, increase in demand across a variety of products. Inventories were being managed carefully and held at fairly low levels in most Districts, but Chicago said rising sales were leading retailers to begin rebuilding inventories from low levels.
Let's take a deeper look at personal income and spending figures which was recently released From the BEA:
Personal income increased $11.4 billion, or 0.1 percent, and disposable personal income (DPI) decreased $47.6 billion, or 0.4 percent, in January, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The decrease in DPI reflected an increase in federal nonwithheld income taxes. Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $52.4 billion, or 0.5 percent. In December, personal income increased $41.2 billion, or 0.3 percent, DPI increased $40.3 billion, or 0.4 percent, and PCE increased $26.4 billion, or 0.3 percent, based on revised estimates.
Let's go to the data:
Service wages are up, and have been increasing for most of last year. However,
Goods producing industries are seeing their wages stall. This makes sense, given that manufacturing employment is taking a massive hit during this recession.
After five months of increases, disposable personal income dropped.
Note that total PCEs (personal consumption expenditures) have been increasing since July.
Service expenditures -- which account for about 65% of total PCEs -- are a large reason for that increase.
Non-durable purchases appear to have stalled, but are still at higher levels than lase year.
Durable goods purchases have been increasing for the last four months. This is very good news as it indicates cash for clunkers did not skew purchases forwarded as feared.
Nonfinancial services activity was reported as steady or improved by the majority of Districts. Boston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and San Francisco reported generally solid demand in health-care services, although Minneapolis noted continued weakness in elective procedures. New York indicated that a growing number of service firms planned to increase capital spending in the months ahead, but investment expectations diminished among high-tech companies in the Kansas City District. Richmond reported that service revenues fell due to the record snowstorms, but a few contacts saw a slight pickup in demand, particularly architectural firms, hospitals, and financial service professionals.
ADP released their employment report last week -- a report which is largely concerned with service sector employment.
Nonfarm private employment decreased 20,000 from January to February 2010 on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the ADP National Employment Report®. The estimated change of employment from December 2009 to January 2010 was revised down, from a decline of 22,000 to a decline of 60,000. The February employment decline was the smallest since employment began falling in February of 2008.Let's look at the data. Click on all images for a larger image
Two large blizzards smothered parts of the east coast during the reference period for the BLS establishment survey. The adverse weather had only a very small effect on today’s ADP Report due to the methodology used to construct it. However, the adverse weather is widely expected to depress the BLS estimate of the monthly change in employment for February, but boost it for March. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to expect the BLS estimate for February (due out this Friday) to be less than today's ADP Report even though the BLS estimate will include the hiring of temporary Census workers not captured in the ADP Report.
Note the ADP and BLS report are highly correlated.
Note that manufacturing -- especially small manufacturing companies -- are the primary reason for the drop in goods producing industries. Services are adding jobs -- especially in the medium size group. Also note the following chart of service jobs:
Once again we have a comment on how the weather is effecting the numbers. Again, I'm not sure about the accuracy of these statements, but I could be wrong.
In addition, the ISM released their non-manufacturing index recently:
"The NMI (Non-Manufacturing Index) registered 53 percent in February, 2.5 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted 50.5 percent registered in January, indicating growth in the non-manufacturing sector. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased 2.6 percentage points to 54.8 percent, reflecting growth for the third consecutive month. The New Orders Index increased 0.3 percentage point to 55 percent, and the Employment Index increased 4 percentage points to 48.6 percent. The Prices Index decreased 0.8 percentage point to 60.4 percent in February, indicating an increase in prices paid from January. According to the NMI, nine non-manufacturing industries reported growth in February. Respondents' comments vary by industry and company about business conditions."
Here is a chart of the relevant data:
Notice the clear improving trend that has been in place since the end of November 2008.
Manufacturing activity increased further in most Districts, although Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco characterized overall activity as flat or mixed. Philadelphia reported widespread production increases across most industries, and manufacturers in the Cleveland District reported a general rise in capacity utilization. Many Districts reported strong production in metals, and the Boston, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts noted strength in high-tech equipment, particularly semiconductors. Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas noted solid improvements in auto-related manufacturing. A consumer goods company in the Boston District said European sales were at healthier levels. Contacts in the Chicago District reported strong growth in Asian exports but remained concerned about China's underlying economic strength. Dallas reported that exports for natural-gas based products remained strong, but weak demand for refined products has trimmed margins and cut capacity utilization further. Construction-related activity remained weak in the Chicago and Dallas Districts, and new orders for commercial aircraft and parts were sluggish in the San Francisco District. Philadelphia and Richmond noted productions delays due to the winter snowstorms in February, but some factories were able to make up the losses with longer work hours and extended shifts. Several manufacturers in the Philadelphia District said production gains could be limited due to continued tightening in credit markets and adverse developments in taxes and regulations. Plant managers in a few Districts reported that a large number of customers were simply restocking inventories, leading to concerns about the sustainability of the increase. However, contacts in most Districts remained optimistic for future months, with several reports of planned increases in capital spending.
From the ISM:
"The manufacturing sector grew for the seventh consecutive month during February. While new orders and production were not as strong as they were in January, they still show significant month-over-month growth. Additionally, the Employment Index is very encouraging, as it is up 2.8 percentage points for the month to 56.1 percent. This is the third consecutive month of growth in the Employment Index. With these levels of activity, manufacturers are seemingly willing to hire where they have orders to support higher employment."
Back to the Beige Book:
Residential real estate markets improved in a number of Districts, remained weak or softened further in the New York, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts, was little changed in the San Francisco District, and characterized as mixed in the St. Louis District. Richmond also reported overall housing activity as mixed, but one contact noted that absent the harsh weather, market conditions might have improved. Adverse weather conditions also hampered home sales and construction in the New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta Districts. Most Districts attributed stronger home sales to the home-buyer tax credit, with several contacts apprehensive about future sales once the credit expires on April 30. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Dallas reported that sales were strongest for low-priced and starter homes, while Dallas cited financing difficulties for high-end homes. Home construction was down or stagnant in most Districts, with the exception of the Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts. Atlanta said the most pronounced weakness was among Georgia homebuilders, and San Francisco attributed weak construction activity to elevated home inventory levels. Home prices mostly remained flat or declined slightly, but signs of improvement were noted in the Boston and San Francisco Districts. A real estate agent in a relatively upscale area of the New York District said prices have continued to drift downward but that short sales were relatively rare and most transactions were still above the mortgage balance.
Commercial real estate conditions remained weak or declined further in most Districts, although some Districts noted slight stabilization or modest signs of improvement. Commercial real estate activity weakened in the Richmond, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts, though Dallas noted that leasing fell at a slower rate and San Francisco cited increased leasing in some segments. Boston and Philadelphia said conditions remain weak, but both noted some improvement in sales of commercial space. New York reported softer activity in the New York City area but some steadying in vacancies and rents elsewhere, while St. Louis said activity remained weak throughout the District. Several Districts also noted that many tenants were pushing for, and in some cases receiving, concessions on rents. All Districts reporting on commercial construction said that activity remained weak or slow, except for some moderate boost from federal stimulus projects and other public construction. Credit for commercial development and transactions was still very difficult to obtain in several Districts, though San Francisco noted a slight improvement in financing availability.
Housing is not doing well. New homes sales are bouncing along the bottom and existing home sales have dropped sharply over the last two months. This is an area of the economy where we need to see more improvement and quickly.
The pace of layoffs slowed in most Districts, but hiring plans still remained generally soft. New York cited a slowdown in layoffs at a securities firm and noted a pickup in hiring in what was still characterized as an exceptionally weak legal industry. Staffing firms in the Boston District also saw a strengthening in demand, particularly from the financial and manufacturing sectors. Several manufacturing and construction firms in the Cleveland District began recalling workers, and temporary staffing accelerated in the Richmond, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts. However, Chicago said demand for permanent workers was low, and a manufacturing contact in the Richmond District held back employment due to productivity improvements. Layoffs were also reported at several retail and manufacturing firms in the Dallas District, and Minneapolis said companies in the medical insurance and financial services industries reduced employment. Wage pressures were minimal, but Boston and Cleveland noted a lift in salary freezes and Richmond said wages rose at service and retail businesses.
The opening sentence says it all -- layoffs have slowed (but they are stuck at uncomfortable levels right now) but there is no hiring yet. In short, the bleeding has stopped but we aren't getting better from there. Here is a link to more information.
The bottom line is clear: the economy is continuing to improve.
Check out this graph of "house effects" (that is, systematic differences in estimates comparing different survey organizations) from the 1995 article, "Pre-election survey methodology," by D. Stephen Voss, Gary King, and myself:
(Please note that the numbers for the outlying Harris polls in Figure 1b are off; we didn't realize our mistake until after the article was published)
From the perspective of fifteen years, I notice two striking features:
1. The ugliness of a photocopied reconstruction of a black-and-white graph:
2. The time lag. This is a graph of polls from 1988, and it's appearing in an article published in 1995. A far cry from the instantaneous reporting in the fivethirtyeight-o-sphere. And, believe me, we spent a huge amount of time cleaning the data in those polls (which we used for our 1993 paper on why are campaigns so variable etc).
3. This article from 1995 represented a lot of effort, a collaboration between a journalist, a statistician, and a political scientist, and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Nowadays, something similar can be done by a college student and posted on the web. Progress, for sure.
Back in January, in the immediate aftermath of Scott Brown's victory when the contract was trading at around 33 percent, I examined the evidence in detail and concluded that, although passage was easy enough to envision, "I'd probably take the short side of those odds if forced to put money on it". That meant I thought the bill had perhaps a 25 or 30 percent chance of passing. So how do I feel about the contract at its more expensive price now?
Let's look at the factors which have changed since January 27th, when I wrote the original analysis. First, here are the ways in which conditions have improved for the Democrats; they are listed in declining order of importance.
Positive Factor #1: The White House has gone "all-in". The Administration was sluggish to get involved for much of the health care debate, preferring to let Congress do its own bidding. However, the White House has pretty clearly made a decision to invest its political capital now, between putting a (fairly) specific proposal on the table, holding a bipartisan summit, taking meetings with reluctant lawmakers, making the case to the public for reconciliation, and explicitly invoking the idea that the presidency depends upon the passage of the bill.
Positive Factor #2. Smooth sailing in the Senate. Open Left's whip count on use the reconciliation process in the Senate is now up to 46 committed votes. Moreover, just one Democrat (Blanche Lincoln, naturally) has expressly objected to the use of reconciliation whereas several others who were thought to be problems for ideological reasons (e.g. Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson) have failed to rule it out. In addition, "process hawks" like Robert Byrd, Kent Conrad, and Russ Feingold have been relatively warm to the idea, deeming the relatively minor changes the Senate would exact to its original bill germane under reconciliation rules. It's hard to see how Democrats aren't bound to get at least 50 votes plus Joe Biden for a reconciliation fix, although they'll probably want a couple of spares in the event that the procedural fight gets messy on the floor.
Positive Factor #3. Few substantive disagreements about the nature of the reconciliation bill itself. The basic parameters of what would be included in the reconciliation sidecar are more or less agreed upon: scaling down the excise tax; removing the Cornhusker kickback; re-jiggering the formulas for subsidies, and perhaps adding some additional oversight provisions and closing the Medicare donut hole. Some further provisions -- like national versus state exchanges -- are still being debated but are unlikely to break the back of the legislation. The more controversial issues, meanwhile, are probably out of the way. To the non-delight of some liberals, Jay Rockefeller and now the President himself have put the kibosh on the latest public option boomlet. And neither pro-Stupak nor anti-Stupak forces are of the belief that the abortion language can be addressed in the reconciliation process. In addition to all of this, the House now seems to have acknowledged that it must move first on health care reform.
Positive Factor #4. Rate increases by Anthem and other private insurers. This makes the moral case stronger and gives nervous Democrats a good talking point for the campaign trail.
Positive Factor #5. One additional 'no' vote planning to retire. This is Eric Massa, who is retiring either because he had a recurrence of cancer or because he sexually harassed a (male) staffer, depending on who you believe. Massa's no vote was a bit strange before -- he said he opposed the bill from the left, but he is in a moderate district and has opposed other parts of the Democratic agenda from the right -- so nothing is to be taken for granted. But clearly this would seem to be an easier vote to swing now, especially if there's some kernel of truth behind the harassment allegations and he feels guilty for having created a minor P.R. nightmare for his colleagues. There's also a chance that Massa could decide to (or be pressured into) vacating his seat immediately, which would reduce the number of votes needed for passage from 217 to 216.
Here, on the other hand, are the factors that have worsened or at least are continuing to work against passage of the bill.
Negative Factor #1. Key 'anti'-blocks not budging. Bart Stupak certainly hasn't backed down from his threat to vote against the bill because of its abortion language, and continues to claim that he might take as many as 11 other Democrats with him. As before, I tend to think that with the possible exception of Stupak himself, the abortion language (which is fairly restrictive in the Senate's bill anyway) is mostly just an excuse for Congressmen who don't want to vote for the bill for other reasons, such as because they're in a tough district or because they're a Republican (Joseph Cao). Therefore, I'm not sure how many of these votes are beyond the reach of persuasion. Nevertheless, the Stupak fight greatly increases the Democrats' degree of difficulty. In addition, although the Blue Dogs have been somewhat quiet, we've seen very little of the sentiment that some like Jason Altmire expressed in the pre-Scotty Brown era, which is that they might vote for the revised bill precisely because it was more moderate. Finally, Dennis Kucinich -- always a party of one -- still seems inclined to vote against the measure.
Negative Factor #2. Attrition. Jack Murtha has died, and Neil Abercrombie has retired. When coupled with Robert Wexler's earlier retirement, this takes the Democrats down to 217 votes from the 220 they had in November. The slight mitigating factor is that, because of the retirements, there are now only 432 sitting Representatives so 217 votes rather than 218 are required for passage.
Negative Factor #3. Continued distress from national environment. Although the health care bill itself has not become more unpopular since the House voted on it, there has been some decline in the Democrats' generic ballot standing, and the number of retirements among prominent members (Evan Bayh, Bill Delahunt, etc.) will do little to quell fears among Democrats who think the bottom is falling out. Nor will the Charlie Rangel and (alleged) Eric Massa scandals.
Negative Factor #4. Bipartisan summit was underwhelming. Although the decision to proceed with the Blair House Summit may later have some utility in mollifying concerns that the Democrats are "ramming the legislation through" without consulting Republicans, there was no immediate P.R. victory nor any manifest change in public opinion on the health care bill. If Democrats were holding out hope for some paradigm-shifting moment in which the health bill suddenly became more popular in the near-term, they are not likely to get one.
Negative Factor #5. The ticking clock. The best-case timetable for completion of the health care bill now appears to be the end of March, which is barely seven months away from the November elections. Some states are already starting to have their primaries, lots of filing deadlines are passing -- the attention paid to electoral politics are increasing. Moreover, some Democrats might not want to vote against a bill that they voted for before, but also might not want to take another vote on an unpopular bill if they can avoid it -- these Democrats might have some incentive to delay the process.
So where does the health care bill stand? The positive developments as outlined above are probably more important than the negative ones, and so I think my post-Masspocalypse sense that the bill had a just a ~25-30 percent chance of passing is clearly too pessimistic. In particular, the possibility that the bill will die for any reason other than simply not having the votes in the House now appears to be quite minimal. The Senate should fairly easily have 50 votes for reconciliation, and the White House is now invested enough that they're unlikely to prematurely cut off debate unless things really are hopeless.
I also think, however, that a relatively 'macro' analysis like this one can conceal the significant hurdles that the bill faces at a 'micro' level in the House. The math on holding those 217 House votes was never very easy for Nancy Pelosi and its not clear that it's gotten any easier. If everyone voted the same way today that they did in November, the bill would pass 217-215. However, two previous yes votes -- Bart Stupak and the Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao -- are almost certainly to be lost, whereas nobody who voted against the bill before has yet affirmed that they'll switch to vote for it. That makes the starting point 215-217 against.
If these were Pelosi's only problems, then it's almost certain that she could persuade at least two of the four retiring members to switch their votes, giving the bill its majority. However, she also faces pressure from other Stupak voters and from some nervous moderates, whereas the universe of potential no-to-yes flips is very small outside of the retirees. Generally speaking, moreover, we've heard more negative/nervous sentiments from previous yes voters than optimistic ones from previous no's, with the abortion fight and concerns about the use of the reconciliation process providing them with some cover in the event of a flip-flop.
The one last advantage that Pelosi has is that she can schedule the vote the very moment she gets to 217. Maybe the bill has 216 votes next Tuesday, and 216 next Thursday, but on Wednesday Dennis Kucinich gets high and decides that he'll vote for it. OK, so that's a joke, but there's a difference between a bill which needs 217 at all points in time and one which needs 217 votes at some point in time.
That's a lot of evidence to weigh. My head says yes -- Pelosi will squeak this through -- while my gut frankly says no. Either way, I'm not sure there's a lot of arbitrage against that 52 percent number at Intrade, but I'd hesitate to call the bill a favorite to pass.
This is not to suggest that a House member who voted for health care in November wouldn't have some reasons to oppose the bill now. For one thing, the Democrats' position in the generic ballot has declined somewhat (although President Obama's approval rating really hasn't). For another, we're now a few months closer to the midterms.
Still, what's probably changed the most is the attitude of the Democratic caucus in the wake of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts along with several prominent retirements among Democratic Congressmembers. It's not that the forecast has really changed all that much since November -- although clearly the Democrats have lost some further ground, especially because of their Senate-side retirements -- as that its consequences have become more manifest.
The results are not particularly surprising in light of recent polls, all of which since October had shown Perry leading, usually by double digit margins. Indeed, what was a hotly-anticipated race going in -- it's unusual to have a sitting U.S. Senator challenge an incumbent governor from her own party -- has turned into something of an anti-climax, as Hutchison failed to make the race close enough to secure earned media or much in the way of momentum.
Still -- while minding the usual caveats about the perils of drawing lessons from any individual race -- it's interesting to compare the messages that each candidate put forward during the campaign. Perry's was an anti-Washington message, focusing in particular on Hutchison's support for the federal bailouts and her role in creating the nation's ever-expanding debt:
Although not all of Perry's ads were negative, his more upbeat and positive spots tended to focus on the same themes.
Hutchison, by contrast, ran on a somewhat muddled and generic anti-incumbent message. Her last couple of attack ads, like the one below, devolved into literally just stringing together random pull quotes from local newspapers ("lobbyists!" "bully pulpit!" "ethical clouds!") while failing to cohere into any one rationale for voting against Perry:
This is not to suggest that Perry has necessarily navigated his way through any trouble; the general election campaign against Bill White, a moderate Democrat who is the Mayor of Houston, is considered to be a toss-up. And he may be better off than most incumbents because Texas has had somewhat fewer employment problems than most large states, with its unemployment rate topping out at 8.3 percent. But as tough as this cycle is liable to be on statehouse incumbents, it's much, much worse for incumbents in Washington.
A related budgetary controversy is earmark reform, the signature complaint of Sen. John McCain. Despite the general anger directed at election-minded members of Congress who pursue pork, I'm not entirely convinced earmark reform could really generate a populist meeting-of-the-minds...but neither am I certain it is necessarily divisive, which is why I didn't put it on the previous list or this one.
So, turning to a short list of policies that are likely to divide economic populists on the Left and Right, my sense is that the obvious, key point of division is the size, complexity and functional operation of the national government. Populists on the Right may be fine with exercising government muscle to, say, take down (or let fail) Wall Street bankers or catch Medicare billing scams. But they are not keen on populism that comes with a hefty price tag. Populists on the Left don't mind spending more, but are wary of quick-fix solutions to structural budgeting and deficit problems.
1. Stimulus II. Though there is strong case to be made that the stimulus monies spent by the national government have worked, as little appeal the first stimulus package had for populists on the Right, another one would be greeted with even more ire. The Democratic National Committee's "hypocrisy watch" campaign to try to embarrass Republicans who complained about and/or voted against last year's stimulus package yet took and even took credit for some local project included in the bill may or may not work politically. But either way, it sure will make it tougher to sign up GOPers for any future such expenditures. Meanwhile, at the more abstract level, the argument about FDR and 1937 may never end. In short, consensus here will be very, very elusive.
2. Public option. There seems to be mounting support for the once-dead public option. House Democrats initially opposed to it but who are retiring may end up coming around, and Obama is targeting them; liberals are lining up commitments from Democratic senators. (Update: Three more senators have committed to vote for public option.) But this is the feature of healthcare reform proposal that populists on the Right point to first when the claims of “socialism” and “government takeover of 25 percent of the economy” getting bandied about. Little to no chance of Left-Right convergence here: To become law the public option will need to be forced through Congress almost exclusively on the strength of Democratic votes.
3. A national consumption or flat tax. Some consumption taxes make sense, particularly those impose on items with inelastic demand that create social problems—the so-called sin taxes on things like cigarettes or alcohol. And a consumption tax on gasoline might appeal to enviros on the Left and Right alike. (Question for which I've never quite received a satisfactory answer from conservatives: Why isn't there more of a push for gas taxes from the Right, especially given the potential national security implications or lower demand?) But because most consumption taxes would be regressive if not highly regressive, the idea that a consumption or Mike Huckabee-style national sales tax could substitute for the income tax is a non-starter for populists on the Left. As for the flat tax? Sure, the tax code could benefit from some simplification. But the whole point of having progressive rates is, well, to add progressivity to the tax structure, and the whole point of creating various deductions from the nominal rates is to encourage or induce taxypayers (not force, induce) to make choices that are individually and collectively beneficial, like saving for college or their retirement, buying instead of renting a home (OK, that incentive proved to be somewhat problematic), making charitable contributions, and so on.
4. Balanced budget amendment. Two quick comments for the crowd advocating this reform: One, politically it will never get the two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress, no less ratification by three-quarters of the states; and two, with the feds already engaging in trickery like using current Social Security receipts (“Lockbox”!) or taking war costs off-budget to hide the true extent of the deficit any given year, would passage of such an amendment have any real meaning? Give it up.