Despite all the activity, turnout could be pretty low (25-30% is the most common estimate), and voters have been very slow to focus on these elections, resulting in a lot of last-minute turbulence and uncertainty. This is a state that makes early voting relatively easy, but it appears not much more than 100,000 early ballots were cast, out of 4.9 million registered voters. Since Georgia has a 50% nomination requirement, runoffs will be held on August 10 for a variety of offices.
The gubernatorial contest has gathered by far the most attention. Georgia had nothing but Democratic governors from the early days of Reconstruction until 2002, when party-switching Republican Sonny Perdue upset incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes in a contest that showed exactly how much the demographic changes of the 1990s had changed the state politically. (Republicans also captured the state Senate that year--winning the House two years later--and knocked off Sen. Max Cleland).
After a surprisingly easy re-election in 2006, Perdue is term-limited, and the highly fractious and well-populated Republican primary to replace him is playing out against the background of a comeback attempt by Barnes, who has his own primary to navigate.
On the Republican side, the front-runner until very recently has been former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who was first elected to that post in 1994, and enjoyed high name ID and a good head start in fundraising. The Oxendine campaign, however, has been haunted by ethics allegations. Early in the campaign, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Oxendine had received $120,000 in contributions from the owner of two Georgia-based insurance companies (which of course, he is responsible for regulating), operating through Alabama-based PACs. Although his campaign returned the money (and went on to raise about $3 million) this charge is still under review by the state ethics commission. But the commission will not hold formal hearings on the subject until after the primary. The AJC came in with fresh allegations of linkage between Oxendine's fundraising and regulatory activities just the other day.
For most of the campaign, the three other viable candidates in the field--former Secretary of State Karen Handel, former Congressman Nathan Deal, and state senator Eric Johnson--have been jockeying to secure a runoff spot opposite Oxendine, while also hoping the front-runner's ethics problems would finally begin to affect his numbers. The salience of ethics issues was considerably increased when the state's Republican House speaker, Glenn Richardson, had to resign in disgrace late last year after a lurid sex-with-a-utilities-lobbyist scandal, which indirectly affected the reputations of Johnson (chairman of a legislative ethics committee that refused to pursue the scandal early on) and Deal (Richardson's candidate for governor). Then Deal was hit with his own ethics problem, allegedly resigning early from Congress to curtail an investigation of a state contract obtained under questionable circumstances by one of his companies back home.
All this unseemliness positioned Karen Handel very well to run a virtual carbon-copy of the campaign run by SC's Nikki Haley (until sexual allegations and attacks on her ethnic and religious background took over the SC race and vaulted her to a landslide runoff victory), identifying herself as the "conservative reformer" taking on the corrupt and ideologically suspect (both Oxendine and Deal started their careers as Democrats) good ol' boys. Another parallel is that Handel, like Haley, is the protege of her state's term-limited incumbent governor (more of an advantage in Georgia than SC, given Mark Sanford's recent issues). Handel's main problem, like Haley's, was poor fundraising, and the former Secretary of State was also haunted by positions on cultural issues, especially gay/lesbian rights (she once made a small contribution to the Log Cabin Republicans, not a popular group among Georgia conservatives), she took early in her own career, when she was running for office in relatively liberal Fulton County (Atlanta). Handel also got hit hard by Georgia's influential right-to-life lobby, which blasted her for supporting rape-and-incest exceptions to a hypothetical abortion ban, and for opposing proposals to sharply restrict IV fertility clinics (a touchy personal issue, since Handel and her husband reportedly have tried without success to have children).
Aside from ethics, abortion and gay rights, the immigration furor touched off by Arizona has emerged as important in the Georgia gubernatorial race (not a surprise, since Georgia is a state with a highly visible but politically weak Hispanic population). Deal was the first to try to capitalize on it, but the other candidates moved in lockstep to the same position, and Handel scored a coup late in the campaign when she was endorsed by AZ Gov. Jan Brewer (a former fellow Secretary-of-State).
Finally, in a truly distinctive Georgia twist, two Republican candidates have adapted the highly popular (among conservatives, particularly in Georgia, where Rep. John Linder and talk-show host Neal Boortz have incessantly promoted it) national "Fair Tax" proposal to state politics. Both Handel and Oxendine have advocated the abolition of the state income tax, which accounts for about half of all state revenues. Neither has made it clear what, exactly, they would do to replace those revenues, and either might be vulnerable in a runoff or general election to charges that they would have to massively increase sales taxes, especially given chronic recent state budget deficits. Abolishing income taxes, of course, strikes a very strong chord not just with long-time "Fair Tax" fans, but with Tea Party activists.
As the primary has approached, the many months of stability in the Republican contest collapsed, and polls have shown a great deal of flux. [Note: see the UPDATE at the bottom of this post]. Having held back on advertising due to financial limitations, Handel has been coming on strong, and with the same impeccable timing she showed in South Carolina, Sarah Palin gave Handel priceless free media by endorsing her last week. Deal immediately encountered with an endorsement by Georgia's own Newt Gingrich, who has also cut an ad for his former House colleague. Johnson's heavy TV ad spending seems to finally be paying off with a bit of a late surge, and he's also emulated Alabama Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert Bentley by running a positive campaign and criticizing other candidates for personal attacks. The long-awaited Oxendine collapse is arguably well-underway, and the last two polls (from Mason-Dixon and Insider Advantage show Handel surging into the lead, with Deal and Oxendine battling for second place and Johnson moving up into double digits for the first time. A late Rasmussen poll shows Handel and Deal tied at 25%, with Oxendine hanging close at 20% and Johnson at 13%.
In this highly competitive environment, Oxendine and Deal have both intensified their attacks on Handel's social views, presumably trying to counteract the impact of the Palin endorsement on hard-core social conservatives, and Palin herself has recorded robocalls defending Handel as a "pro-life and pro-family" conservative. The rhetoric has grown very heated, with Oxendine and Deal running ads calling Handel a "liberal," and Handel's campaign calling Oxendine "the most corrupt politician in Georgia's history" (much earlier, prominent Handel supporter Erick Erickson of RedState pledged to vote for Barnes if Oxendine won the Republican nomination).
Geography could matter a lot in the primary results; Deal's base in in the North Georgia region he represented in Congress, while Handel is strong in metro Atlanta; these areas are where the bulk of Republican primary voters live. Johnson, from Savannah, has a base in South Georgia. But all in all, almost anything could happen.
The Democratic gubernatorial contest has been much quieter than the GOP's. Barnes has been the prohibitive favorite all along, with the main mystery being whether he could be forced into a runoff. His opponents all have strong resumes. David Poythress, who has served in a variety of statewide posts dating back to the 1980s, was the first in the field and has attracted some national netroots support, but has struggled to raise money or make much of a mark in the polls. Former state House Democratic Leader Dubose Porter has positioned himself as a traditional moderate-to-conservative Georgia Democrat, but has gone nowhere since Barnes jumped into the race; Porter's main distinction is that his wife, Carol Porter, has become the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor, a relatively powerful position in this state. But the main challenger to Barnes is Attorney General Thurbert Baker, an African-American who has quietly been elected and re-elected to his position three times, after serving as Zell Miller's floor leader in the state House.
Baker's obvious strategy is to make the runoff via an appeal to African-Americans, who will make up an estimated 40-50% of the Democratic primary electorate (these are all rough estimates, because Georgia does not have registration by party, making both primaries "open"). But his initial law-and-order message, compounded by a high-profile case in which Baker pursued appeals to secure the jailing of an African-American teenager for consensual sex (or so-called statutory rape) with another teenager, has cut into his popularity with that community. Baker finally started running TV ads late in the campaign, and has staked a lot on a proposal to legalize electronic bingo (a big issue in neighboring Alabama) to fund improvements in K-12 education. He also received a well-publicized endorsement from Bill Clinton, who was clearly thanking Baker for his steadfast support of Hillary Clinton in 2008. But Barnes had a big head start on TV, and has attracted a number of prominent African-American endorsements (most notably new Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed). Both candidates are from metro Atlanta, so geography should not matter much.
In contrast to the instability of public opinion in the GOP contest, the four public polls (Mason-Dixon, Insider Advantage, Rasmussen and Survey USA) of the Democratic race taken since Independence Day have all shown Barnes at between 54-56%, and Baker at between 15-20%, with a significant undecided vote. With Barnes looking very competitive for the general election and Republicans tearing each other apart, Democrats appear to scent an unlikely red-state 2010 victory, and that should benefit the former governor tomorrow.
It's worth noting that this gubernatorial race is one of those that could have a major impact on redistricting. With Georgia due to pick up an additional congressional seat, and with two currently Democratic districts being very marginal, a Democratic gubernatorial win could break up a significant Republican gerrymander.
Speaking of Congress, one of Georgia's two perennially vulnerable white Democratic Members of Congress, Blue Dog John Barrow of the 12th district, faces a rematch with 2008 primary challenger Regina Thomas, a former state legislator, who is banking on liberal (and particularly African-American) anger at Barrow's vote against health car reform. But as in 2008, the incumbent has a vast financial advantage over the challenger, and Thomas is likely to attract little more than a protest vote. The Republican primary in the 12th, however, is a wide-open multi-candidate affair that will probably go to a runoff; the candidates most likely to get there are Tea Party favorite Ray McKinney and former Savannah-area fire chief Carl Smith. This Augusta-Savannah-based district has been narrowly carried by the last four Democratic presidential candidates.
The other vulnerable white Democrat, Jim Marshall of the central-south Georgia eight district, has successfully overcome his district's Republican leanings through several tough challenges. Another Blue Dog who opposed health reform, Marshall did manage to avoid a serious primary opponent, but his almost-certain general election opponent, state Rep. Austin Scott (who dropped out of the governor's race to take on Marshall) is a well-financed and formidable candidate.
Two heavily Republican House districts are also holding competitive primaries, though one of them, the 9th, features an incumbent, Tea Party favorite Tom Graves, who recently won a special election in the district to replace Nathan Deal. Barring odd turnout patterns, Graves should hold on for nomination to a full term, though special election runoff opponent Lee Hawkins, with a strong geographic base in Hall County, could force Graves into yet another runoff, particularly given simmering publicity about a banking scandal involving the incumbent.
Meanwhile, in the North Metro Atlanta 7th district, longtime arch-conservative incumbent John Linder is retiring, and eight candidates are vying for the GOP nomination to face him. Unsurprisingly, all eight have pledged support for Linder's signature "Fair Tax" proposal to replace the federal income tax with a national consumption tax. The front-runners and the candidates with the most financial resources are former state Rep. Clay Cox and former Linder chief-of-staff Rob Woodall. Cox, who has been endorsed by the three top Georgia statewide officials (Gov. Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and House Speaker David Ralston) is the favorite, and could win without a runoff, though the plethora of candidates suggests that's a bit of a long shot.
There is a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, but Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond (who, like Thurbert Baker, is an African-Americans who has won statewide elections three times) is the heavy favorite for the nomination to oppose incumbent Johnny Isakson.
Retirements, resignations and candidates running for higher office have opened up an unusual number of down-ballot statewide positions, including Attorney General, Secretary of State, Agriculture Commissioner, Labor Commissioner, and State School Superintendent. There's not enough space here to go through those races, but very competitive primaries are going on in both parties for AG and SoS.
Polls close in Georgia statewide at 7:00 p.m. Aside from the early voting issues mentioned earlier, Georgia is operating under a controversial photo-ID requirement that is an important part of Karen Handel's conservative resume from her tenure as Secretary of State. This could have an impact on minority turnout, but its implications are more likely to play out in November.
UPDATE: Magellan Strategies has released a last-minute poll of the GOP gubernatorial primary that suggests an intensification of the recent trends in the race. It shows Karen Handel blowing out to a huge lead, with 38%; Nathan Deal is second at 20%; Eric Johnson has continued his late surge, and now has 17%; and astonishingly, long-time front-runner John Oxendine has dropped all the way to a poor fourth at 12%.
Just three weeks ago, I was on a panel in Georgia with a highly-regarded former Republican legislator and pundit (I won't embarrass him by mentioning his name) who suggested that Oxendine might win without a runoff, and that Handel, handicapped by money problems, might well fade. He also said Eric Johnson could enjoy a late surge, so he got one out of three predictions right. The point is that this race has really upset expectations, particularly if Magellan has got it right. And it's all highly reminiscent of SC, where Nikki Haley's late surge looked a lot like Handel's. Since Handel has not been accused of marital infidelity or attacked for her ethnicity or religion, there's little question Sarah Palin will get a lot of credit, deserved or not, if Handel does romp to a strong first-place finish tomorrow. And if her runoff opponent is Nathan Deal, we'll see a rare and fascinating surrogate confrontation between two potential 2012 presidential candidates, right on Newt Gingrich's home turf, and it could get very, very ugly.
The question is not whether the strategist's statement is true, but how true. Because as the two charts in this post demonstrate, whether or not they are actual members of the Blue Dog coalition or not, the Democrats whose seats are most in jeopardy this autumn almost uniformly come from the more conservative half of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House Democratic caucus.
Let's take a look at Democratic-held seats that may flip this November. Last week I used ratings by Isaac Wood of Sabato's Crystal Ball for an online analysis and follow-up 538 post in which I examined where Republicans need to win regionally to recapture the House. To mix things up--but again in the spirit of using a second-hand source for the competitiveness ratings, rather than some index I might create--this time I turn to Cook Political Report's David Wasserman. (Who, as it happens, was Wood's predecessor at Crystal Ball.) In the June 12 issue of the National Journal (see p. 20), Wasserman ranked 64 Democratic-held seats as either "probable switch", "toss-up", or "also competitive." I then looked up the National Journal's vote rankings, published in their February 27, 2010 issue, for all 64 of these members.
For those who may be unfamiliar, a brief aside here to explain those rankings: NJ picks a series of roll call votes on economic, foreign policy and social issues, creates a score for each of these categories for every House and Senate member, also computes a composite score for all of these votes, and then ranks every member of the House from 1 to 435 in terms of how liberal [or conservative] their composite voting score is. The scores appearing in the two figures I created for this post represent the liberal ranking; in other words, a ranking of 100 means that member has the 100th most liberal composite voting score in the House in the 111th Congress (or thus far, at least).
Given that there are 256 Democratic-held seats (or recently held, in the case of vacancies) as we head into the midterms--and despite the fact that at the very middle of the distribution there are a few super-centrist Democrats who actually have slightly more conservative voting records than a few super-centrist Republicans (but very few, a consequent of the continuing bifurcation of the Congress, especially the House, of the past two or three decades)--for simplicity's sake I drew a line at ranking 128. Democrats with a ranking of 128 or lower are, we might say, in the more liberal half of the House Democratic caucus; those 129 or higher are in the more conservative half. That 128 cut point is indicated by the solid red line in each of the two figures.
And what do we see? Leaving aside the small group of dead-in-the-water "probable switch" seats,* the two figures reveal a rather astonishing, but virtually identical distribution of the voting records of House incumbents currently occupying what Wasserman ranks as either "toss-up" (27) or "also competitive" (29) seats. The mean ranking for both groups (186, 187) is basically the same--and this despite the slight weighing down of that average of a handful of liberal outliers among both groups, including four "toss-up" seats where the member has a vote rating lower than 128 and two such seats among the "also competitive" group. The pattern is clear: Some of the most conservative members of the House Democratic caucus, those with vote scores that rank them in the high 100s or low 200s of the 256-member caucus, are in trouble. Heck, Alabama's Bobby Bright is actually the 264th most liberal member in a House that only has 256 Democratic-held seats!
What can we conclude from this data?
1. Blue Dogs or other House Democrats who often vote with them are going to account for the vast majority of House Democratic losses this November, which is not a real shocker to anyone following the situation closely;
2. The voting records of those in greater jeopardy ("toss-ups") are not much different from those who are in somewhat lesser jeopardy (the "also-competitive" seat-holders). Of course, vulnerability is a function of factors other than roll call voting records, including money and strength of opponent and district demographics and seniority.
3. The House Democratic caucus, whether holding onto a thinner majority or falling into the minority, will be more liberal in the 112th Congress than it is now.
*Notes on the figures: 1. Those six "probables" Wasserman classified are, perhaps not surprisingly, all open seats: AR-2, IN-8, KS-3, LA-3, NY-29, and TN-6; 2. Incumbents with names in CAPS in the two figures are not running for re-election and so these are open also seats; 3. There are two "also competitive" seats for which there were not sufficient roll call data for their newly special-elected members to have a score, NY-23 (Owen) and PA-12 (Critz), which accounts for the fact that 6 + 27 + 29 = 62, not 64.
The way YouGov does online polling is no less scientific than the way Rasmussen does telephone polling.Let me explain what I mean by that. One definition of how "scientific" a poll is is the percentage of the adult population that it can potentially hope to reach. That isn't a complete definition, mind you -- it's more of a necessary than a sufficient condition -- but it isn't a useless one. By this definition, Rasmussen's polling isn't very scientific: because of certain shortcuts that they take, well over half of the American population will be physically unable to take one of their phone calls.
Rasmussen typically conducts its polling on weeknights, calling between 5 PM and 9 PM over the course of a single evening. They do not call phone numbers back, as most other pollsters do, in the event they don't get an answer the first time. They don't call cellphones -- only landlines. And they speak to the first person they get on the line if they speak to anybody at all; other polling firms use carefully-designed procedures to randomize the selection of respondent within the household (a typical mechanism is something like asking that the adult with the next birthday come to the phone).
Let's examine the first of these problems in some detail: that Rasmussen only makes one phone call to each household, and that it typically occurs between 5 and 9 PM on a weeknight. What percentage of adults with landlines will physically be able (without unusual effort or impoliteness) to accept a phone call which is made at some random point between 5 and 9 on a weekday evening?
One way to approach this is to look at the American Time Use Survey, which is put out periodically by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It asks respondents to chart how they spend their time -- everything from commuting to bathing -- at 10-minute intervals over the course of the day. Some of these activities (like watching TV) are going to be more amenable to taking a pollster's phone call on one's landline, and others (like being in the commute home from work) considerably less so.
From the beautiful interactive graphic that my soon-to-be-colleagues at the New York Times put together, I took the average of the number of Americans aged 15 and up who are engaged in a particular activity at 5 PM, 7 PM, and 9 PM respectively, and then made a further adjustment to differentiate between weekends and weekdays. We can pair this time-use data with some commonsensical assumptions about how compatible each activity is with accepting a landline call to get a reasonable estimate of how much of the population Rasmussen can even hope to reach.
The activities were broken down by the Times into roughly 20 categories: for each one, I have attempted to estimate the fraction of those engaged in the activity who are "reachable" by telephone. The definition of "reachable" is unavoidably somewhat ambiguous, but basically refers to people who (i) are within the vicinity of their household's landline telephone; (ii) are physically able to take the phone call without undue effort; (iii) are not engaged in other activities, like sex, during which one would not customarily answer the phone. The activity categories, going in order from most common to least common, are as follows:
Watching TV or movies (24.0 percent of adult population): You probably won't have much luck getting someone to take your phone call during the series finale of Lost or the seventh game of the NBA Finals -- but the vast majority of people watching the tube are reachable on their landlines by any reasonable definition. The only reason I don't put this at 100 percent because some TV (and certainly some movie) viewing will occur outside the home, but we'll assume that ... 95 percent are reachable.
Work (13.4 percent of adult population): Although some people work from home, the vast majority will not be available on their home landlines while working ... 10 percent are reachable.
Commuting (10.2 percent of adult population): By definition, this activity occurs outside the household ... 0 percent are reachable.
Household chores (9.5 percent of adult population): This is a tricky one: about 20 or 25 percent of household tasks occur outdoors, according to the study, and some other activities will be extremely physically strenuous or necessitate that the person quite literally has their hands full. But other chores are more casual (even verging on relaxing) and the person might be quite happy to take a phone call ... 70 percent are reachable.
Eating and drinking (7.4 percent of adult population): Obviously, people eating (or drinking) outside their homes won't be reachable on their landlines. And there are still a lot of people who either turn the phone off or otherwise won't take calls during dinnertime. Then again, our eating habits are becoming quite casual, and so this rule isn't as ironclad as it once was. This gets into a little bit of a gray area in terms of how we define the term "reachable", but let's say that ... 50 percent are reachable.
Sleeping (5.8 percent of adult population): Some people go to bed early or, like yours truly, have otherwise irregular sleeping habits -- and I assume that you won't have much luck in getting someone to take a robopoll if you've awoken them from their slumber... 0 percent are reachable.
Other leisure (5.1 percent of adult population): This includes other indoor activities like reading and video games -- usually a pretty good time to reach someone ... 100 percent are reachable.
Socializing (4.6 percent of adult population): This category is fairly broadly defined and doesn't necessarily have to involve being outside of one's household, although a good fraction of it surely will. As with dining, however, this is a time when a lot of people will refuse to take a stranger's phone call even when they are physically in their homes. ... 40 percent are reachable.
Family care (3.9 percent of adult population): These activities will usually, although not always, occur inside the household, but much of it involves being physically in contact with another family member, especially a child, when it might or might not be realistic to take a phone call. And this is another time where people might typically abhor or ignore phone calls. .... 40 percent are reachable.
Personal care (3.3 percent of adult population): A lot of this involves fairly non-strenuous activity like (say) clipping one's toenails, but three important exceptions are showering, sex, and going to the bathroom, when you either cannot reach the phone or darned well had better not be trying to ... 50 percent are reachable.
Sports and exercise (2.4 percent of adult population): The majority of this category, which includes attending sporting events as well as participating in athletic activity, occurs outdoors or entirely outside of the household, and much of what doesn't will nevertheless involve physical exertion that is incompatible with taking a phone call ... 25 percent are reachable.
Education (2.1 percent of adult population): Although most of the time in this category involves attending class, or commuting to and from it, it also includes time spent doing homework, when someone might be willing to take a call during a study break ... 30 percent are reachable.
Shopping (1.9 percent of adult population): It's no longer literally true that this must occur outside the household, but the vast majority of it does ... 5 percent are reachable.
Relaxing / thinking (1.6 percent of adult population): i.e., doing nothing ... 100 percent are reachable.
E-mail and web surfing (1.1 percent of adult population): If you're wondering why this number is low, some computer use seems to get classified under "other leisure". Anyway, this is another very good time to reach someone on the phone ... 100 percent are reachable.
Taking phone calls (1.0 percent of adult population): Although most people have call waiting, they won't usually interrupt a call with a friend, family member or co-worker to take one from a stranger ... 20 percent are reachable.
Volunteering (1.0 percent of adult population): With rare exception, this will occur outside the household ... 10 percent are reachable.
Nonfamily care, out-of-household (0.7 percent of adult population): The way that the BLS defines this category, which includes things like babysitting, it necessarily occurs away from one's home ... 0 percent are reachable.
Religious activities (0.4 percent of adult population): Mostly attending services or praying; you might occasionally be able to reach someone who is engaged in Bible study ... 15 percent are reachable.
Other activities (0.7 percent of adult population): About half of this is out-of-household errands, and the other half is "don't remember". The latter might be a euphemism for being drunk/high/stoned, in which case getting someone on the phone is dubious to say the least. But let's give the "don't remembers" the benefit of the doubt and say that ... 50 percent are reachable.
So, let's add the numbers up. What percentage of people with landlines will in practice be reachable on them at a randomly-selected time between 5 PM and 9 PM on a weekday evening? The answer, if you follow the highlighted column down to the bottom, is only about -- actually, very slightly less than half, according to our estimate.
Basically, a pollster is going to get a lot of people who are watching TV -- probably about half his sample. Could that potentially skew things in ways that wouldn't necessarily be resolved by demographic weighting? Of course it could, particularly since there is a lot of news programming on at this time of day. Otherwise, you'll get people who are reading or surfing the Internet, who are doing chores, or who, in some cases, are willing to interrupt meal time, family time or social time to take a phone call.
If we were very liberal about how we defined "reachable", the percentage would be somewhat higher than 50 percent, as activities like eating meals or family care, when not being done away from home, fall into something of a gray area. On the other hand, this definition is generous in a lot of ways. If a travelling salesman is watching TV at his hotel room in Dayton having finished his work for the day, he won't be available on his home landline, but would be counted as such by our estimate.
Another issue, since Rasmussen doesn't use intra-household selection and talks to the first person they reach on the phone, is that someone who lives in the household with a spouse or teenager who always takes the household's phone calls will never be reachable. And by a stricter definition, anyone who does not happen to take the phone call first will not be reachable at that given moment in time. The average American household has 2.59 persons, and even if young children essentially never answer the family's landline, teenagers certainly do, and so this could reduce reachability by a further factor of about two.
A more unambiguous problem is one we have discussed before around here: not everyone has a landline to begin with. About 23 percent of adults do not have access to a landline, another 4 percent have a landline but only take incoming calls on their cellphone, and 2 percent don't have a telephone of any kind. In total, this is about 30 percent of the population which can't be even potentially be reached by a polling firm that doesn't dial cellphones, and the fraction is increasing every year.
So basically, 70 percent of the population has a landline which they at least sometimes answer, and of that 70 percent, about 50 percent will be "reachable" at a random time on a weekday evening. That means that only about 35 percent of the population can even potentially take one of Rasmussen's phone calls. If you also account for the lack of intra-household selection in their surveys, the percentage of "reachables" would be more on the order of 20 percent.
Then you get into the problems that are intrinsic to all types of polling, like the fact that there are a lot of people who won't answer phone calls from unknown numbers at all, or who will hang up once they learn it's a pollster on the other end of the line. These problems for the most part are unavoidable, although a company with human operators should have lower refusal rates.
But a lot of these problems could be averted if Rasmussen were willing to prioritize quality over quantity. They could certainly do callbacks: if you call someone five times during a 3-day interval, the odds are very high that at least once, they will physically be able to take your call on their landline (whether or not they elect to do so). Rasmussen could include a cellphone sample, as SurveyUSA has started to do for some clients. They could probably introduce some form of intra-household selection; it would be tricky to do with an automated script, but it wouldn't be impossible.
They don't elect to do these things, however, because it's not in their business model. In other words ... because they're cheap. That's not meant to be an ad hominem: it's the only way to accurately describe the problem.
Maybe Rasmussen's polling will happen to produce the right results in spite of all this. Historically, in fact, it's been about average -- a little better than average, actually, on balance. In the long-run, though, I think it's going to get them into some trouble, particularly as some of these issues -- fewer and fewer Americans have landlines each year -- are continuing to get worse.
To be clear, most of these things have nothing intrinsically to do with their using an automated script. If you had a pollster that used live human operators, but which did blitz polling during a single four-hour period on a single weeknight, which never did callbacks, which did not call cellphones, and which did not use intra-household selection, you'd have basically all of the same problems. Conversely, some other "robopollsters" like SurveyUSA and PPP avoid at least some of these problems because they (or their clients) are willing to pay the money to do so.
Nevertheless, this is why it's quite accurate to say what I said in my tweet: that the way that YouGov does online polling is no less scientific than the way Rasmussen does telephone polling. Internet penetration, which is rising, is about to cross paths with landline penetration, which is falling: both are on the order of 70-75 percent of the U.S. population right now. Although the way that YouGov recruits its Internet panel is not completely scientific (although much better than something like Zogby Interactive, which doesn't even have the pretense of being scientific if you read the fine print), it's no less scientific than what Rasmussen does, given all the shortcuts they take to churn out polling so cheaply and quickly: somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths of the population will be physically unable to take one of Rasmussen's phone calls, depending on how you define the problem.
This is not meant to be an endorsement of YouGov -- although I like the guys over there and think they're smart, and I think competently done online polling (i.e. not Zogby Interactive's approach) would do more good than harm for the industry. But unless T. Boone Pickens or Bill Gates is willing to bankroll a proper, by-the-book, live-operator survey operation, the future of the industry will mostly be in robopolling and online polling. Therefore, it's time to pay more attention to which firms do this type of polling relatively well and which do it relatively sloppily; ironically, the fact that some in the traditional polling community are phobic about robopolls (and Internet polls) may lead to less scrutiny of some of the other issues that a firm like Rasmussen has.
Another question I'm sure that I'll get is to what extent the sheer volume of polling that Rasmussen does is liable to have on our forecasts. The answer is that our forecasting products are very carefully calibrated to avoid allowing any one pollster to unduly influence the outcome: our method builds in several hedges against Rasmussen and sees bad things ahead for Democrats in spite of them, not because of them.
But this discussion shouldn't be about the results that Rasmussen produces, either past, present or future. It should be about the state of the polling industry as a whole, an industry which is increasingly becoming a race to the bottom, and Rasmussen plays a big part in that.
The model gives Republicans a 17 percent chance of taking over the Senate if Charlie Crist caucuses with them, up significantly from 6 percent three weeks ago. If Crist does not caucus with them, their chances of a takeover are 12 percent. However, the model does not account for the contingency that someone like Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson could decide to switch parties, which makes their chances slightly better than we suggest here.
Democrats' chances of gaining a net of one or more seat and re-claiming a 60-seat majority are 7 percent, down from 12 percent three weeks ago. If they could persuade Charlie Crist to caucus with them, however, their chances would improve to 10 percent.
Methodological improvements. There are four changes to the model from June's version, which are briefly described below. The first change -- the likely voter adjustment -- is by far the most important.
Likely voter adjustment. We now notate whether each poll is of likely voters, registered voters, or all adults, and include variables for this in the regression analysis we use to calculate pollster house effects. The regression shows that, holding house effects constant, Democrats do a net of 4 points better in polls of registered voters (with a 95 percent confidence interval of about 2-6 points) than in polls of likely voters, and roughly 7 points better in polls of all adults. So if we took, for example, the recent Ipsos poll of California, a poll of registered voters which showed Barbara Boxer with a 4-point lead over her Republican challenger, Carly Fiornia, we would expect it to show about a tied race if a likely voter screen had been applied instead.
The adjustment works in exactly this fashion: it adds a net of 4 points to the Republican candidate's margin each time that it encounters a poll of registered voters, and 7 points every time that it encounters a poll of adults (which is very rare in state-level polling.) Polls of likely voters are left unchanged as having a likely voter screen is assumed to be the default condition.
In 2008, I had been reluctant to be overly aggressive about using likely voter polls this far out from the election. In fact, when the pollster had presented us with a choice of a registered voter and a likely voter poll, we went with the registered voter numbers until Labor Day. The reason for my change of heart is twofold. First, by the time we get to November, essentially all polls will be of likely voters. In other words, we are essentially predicting what the polls are likely to show in due time anyway, once all pollsters have switched to a likely voter model. This should lend additional stability to the forecasts, as they will converge toward their final estimates more quickly. Secondly, there is substantial quantitative and qualitative evidence of an enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, which we would quite naturally expect to be reflected in likely voter polls but not so in polls of registered voters. (It is probably also the case that registered voter polls generally somewhat underestimate Republicans' performance in midterm elections even when the mood of the country is fairly neutral, but that is especially likely to be the case in a year like this one, where enthusiasm is imbalanced).
Because of the way our model is calibrated, this adjustment does make a fair amount of difference: it is most of the reason that Republicans have a somewhat better forecast now than they did three weeks ago. But note that the adjustment is self-correcting; if, as other pollsters switch over to likely voter models, they do not show an enthusiasm gap, its effect will be reduced in our model.
We are tracking to see whether a similar adjustment might be warranted for polls which exclude cellphones from their samples; at the moment, there does not appear to be sufficient statistical certainty to do so.
I'm sure that some people will also wonder what impact this adjustment has on Rasmussen's polling, which has had a large, Republican-leaning House effect this cycle. The fact that Rasmussen has always sampled likely voters, whereas some other polls survey registered voters adults, accounts for some of its house effect. However, as we reported before, it does not account for all of it: we still show a Rasmussen house effect of 2-3 points even once this is accounted for.
Research 2000 polls removed. We no longer include any polls from Research 2000 because, in my considered professional opinion, the preponderance of evidence suggests that some or all of their data may have been falsified, or that if it was not falsified, it nevertheless reflects highly unorthodox and unscientific polling practices. Although I take no position on whether Research 2000's polling has been proven to be falsified "beyond the shadow of a doubt", this is not a court of law and we have no reason to apply that stringent a standard. If Research 2000 made even a rudimentary effort to provide us with the raw, interview-level data from its polls, or records of its transactions with its call centers, I would probably give them the benefit of the doubt, but so far they have not. (Note that I have not physically removed Research 2000's polls from my database -- they are still in there, but they are assigned a special flag that gives them a weight of zero. If Research 2000 were able able to make me reasonably comfortable that it in fact conducted the polls that it claims to have conducted, I would of course consider re-including them.)
Note, however, that in the case of Research 2000, this actually has a fairly minor impact, as their polls had already been assigned a low weighting because of their mediocre track record, and because they were already being substantially adjusted because of their large, Democratic-leaning house effect.
Use of partisan identification rather than PVI. Our forecasts are based, in part, on a regression model which seeks to predict the polling average in each state based on a number of variables, like the incumbent status of each candidate and their favorability or approval ratings. One of the variables in this analysis had been a state's Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which is a measure of how it voted relative to the rest of the country in the Presidential elections of 2004 and 2008. However, growing out of some concerns with the numbers the regression model was producing in West Virginia, I decided to test an alternate measure of a state's partisan orientation, which was the number of people who identified as being a member of each party in Gallup's tracking throughout 2009. The partisan identification measure turned out to have substantially more predictive power than PVI (in fact, PVI adds no additional value once it is accounted for), so we will now be using party identification in PVI's place. This helps the Democrats in states like Kentucky, which has relatively high levels of Democratic identification relative to their voting in the past two Presidential elections, but hurts them in places like Colorado, for which the opposite is true.
West Virginia now included. We now include a forecast for West Virginia, where Robert Byrd died last month and where there may now be a special election to replace him. We assign a 25 percent likelihood to each of the following scenarios: there is a special election between Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, there is a special election between Joe Manchin and Betty Ireland (these two matchups have been polled), there is a special election between a generic Democratic and a generic Republican candidate (the forecast for this scenario is based solely off of regression analysis), and there is no special election until 2012. Overall, the model figures that there is a 12 percent chance that the Republicans take over the seat in West Virginia, mostly based on the scenario where there is a special election but Manchin does not run.
As noted above, it is these methodological changes that account for most of the improvement in the Republicans' standing in this month's forecast. We actually show the national trendline -- based on an analysis of generic ballot polling -- having been exceptionally flat for at least the past 4-5 months, with Republicans having gained only about half a percentage point during that period. (This contrasts with Barack Obama's approval ratings, which have shown some additional signs of erosion.)
Still, this is by all means looking like a very bad cycle for Democrats, and they are running out of time to right the ship. Republicans clearly have enough states in play to become the majority party. On the other hand, they are playing defense in a number of places, and some pickups that looked fairly certain before (Nevada, Delaware) look less so now. Therefore, they will probably need some additional national momentum of their own to have a clear shot of taking over the Senate.
Detailed results follow below. (Note: our earlier post this evening had incorrectly omitted a PPP poll of Wisconsin. We put the Republicans' chances of taking over the state at 26 percent, not 24 percent. The other numbers in this article have been corrected accordingly.)
As Nate’s graph shows, the number of countries allowing gay marriage is slowly but steadily ticking upward. No longer is it unique to the stereotypically liberal Benelux and Scandinavian countries. Spain, Portugal and Argentina--Catholic countries with histories of right-wing, military dictatorships--now permit gay couples to wed. Polls show 70% of Argentines favoring the new law.
The most obvious implication of Argentina’s law is that gays and lesbians will marry and adopt children. But as with everything in Argentina, there are also baser political implications. President Fernández was a strong backer of the marriage bill, but had come late to the issue. Her critics pointed out that she showed little interest in same-sex marriage when her party still controlled the Congress, and may have had ulterior motives for pushing it now.
The president and her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, are so polarizing that normal partisan divides in the Congress have given way to pro-Kirchner and anti-Kirchner blocs. The Front for Victory (FpV), the Kirchners’ wing of the Justicialist (Peronist) Party, lost control of both houses last year to a broad coalition of dissident Justicialists, the liberal (in the European sense) Radical Civic Union (UCR), social democrats and traditional conservatives.
Same-sex marriage was a wedge issue that split the opposition, and the Kirchners hope to exploit these fissures for future electoral gain. Fernández was assisted by some dissident Justicialists, including Senator (and former President) Carlos Menem, a social conservative, who abstained rather than vote no.
By portraying herself as the champion of progressive social values, President Fernández hopes to appeal to wealthier, socially liberal voters in metro Buenos Aires, who largely abandoned the FpV in the 2009 midterms. This self-portrayal got a tremendous boost from the Catholic Church, which was the most vocal opponent of gay marriage. The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, called the bill the devil's work, and organized a mass demonstration in opposition. Opponents argued that this was an example of Buenos Aires imposing its decadent, city values on the “real Argentina” of farms and villages. (Sound familiar?) The opposition also made an appeal to the children: Catholic schools in Buenos Aires dismissed pupils early the day before the vote, and encouraged them to rally at the Capitol in favor of “one mom and one dad” families.
This overt ecclesiastical pressure probably backfired. Argentina is a secular state, and past Church interference in civic affairs has bred a strong current of anti-clericalism. As in Spain, the Church hierarchy has been tainted by its complicity in the repression of dissidents under the former military regime. (Many individual priests and nuns, however, preached resistance through Liberation Theology.) Having Cardinal Bergoglio as the frontman for opposition to gay marriage conjured up these bad memories.
Thus, the vote in the Senate became not only a question of whether to allow same-sex marriage, but also of whether the civilian government could make decisions without Church interference. This rigged the deck in the Kirchners' favor. While the vast majority of Argentines self-identify as Catholic, only a quarter report attending any weekly religious services--a rate considerably lower than in some other countries that allow same-sex marriage.
Because Catholic identity in Argentina is so broad yet so shallow, it is generally counterproductive to make religious appeals for or against a particular political issue. This is in contrast to the US, where high religious diversity is matched by high religious observance, and each religious community is a political interest group. (Catholic bishops probably have more influence over the US Congress than Argentina’s.) The testimonies of actual gay and lesbian families won out over appeals to hypothetical family values.
In the end, the Kirchners' gambit paid off. While it remains to be seen whether they gain or lose anything from this legislation, they have recently enjoyed a resurgence in opinion polls. Thanks to their pushing, Argentina showed its socially liberal side, and Nate's rainbow graph got another, 40-million-person bar.
A Brief History of the Deficit
According to the Bureau of Public Debt, the US has been running a structural deficit for the last ten years, not just the last year. Here is a chart of the total amount of federal debt outstanding at the end of each federal fiscal year for the last ten years:
09/30/2009 $ 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 $ 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 $ 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 $ 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 $ 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 $ 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 $ 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 $ 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 $ 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 $ 5,674,178,209,886.86
The reason for this yearly increase of at least $400 billion in net new federal debt/year is simple: the US cut taxes but didn't make a proportionate cut in spending. As a result, total debt outstanding increased.
If the austerity movement was really about the increase in federal debt, it would have emerged sometime after 2004-2005 when the US' structural deficit issue started to emerge in the data.
A Brief Explanation of GDP
Gross domestic product is comprised of four elements. Consumer spending (C) + Investment (I) + Exports (exports-imports) + government spending (g). Here is the equation:
C+I+X+G = GDP.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, government spending has accounted for about 20% of US GDP since 1970.
In other words -- government spending is always part of the national economic equation.
A Brief History of Austerity
Other countries have tried it.
Neil Shearing, economist at Capital Economics in London, said the real lesson from the region was that, “aggressive fiscal consolidation at a time when the private sector is also retrenching is likely to lead to much weaker levels of activity and a surge in unemployment”.
Much like Spain, Ireland and the UK, the Baltic states were badly hit by the bursting of a credit bubble in 2008 that sent their economies into freefall and their budget deficits soaring.
While others cushioned the impact with stimulus spending, the Baltic trio plunged straight into austerity. As a result, they suffered the deepest recessions in the European Union last year, with Latvia’s economy shrinking by 18 per cent.
The region has since stabilised but, for many ordinary people it still feels like a depression. Wages have plummeted while unemployment has rocketed, with more than a fifth of the Latvian labour force out of work.
As Europe’s major economies focus on belt-tightening, they are following the path of Ireland. But the once thriving nation is struggling, with no sign of a rapid turnaround in sight.
Nearly two years ago, an economic collapse forced Ireland to cut public spending and raise taxes, the type of austerity measures that financial markets are now pressing on most advanced industrial nations.
“When our public finance situation blew wide open, the dominant consideration was ensuring that there was international investor confidence in Ireland so we could continue to borrow,” said Alan Barrett, chief economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland. “A lot of the argument was, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’ ”
Rather than being rewarded for its actions, though, Ireland is being penalized. Its downturn has certainly been sharper than if the government had spent more to keep people working. Lacking stimulus money, the Irish economy shrank 7.1 percent last year and remains in recession.
Joblessness in this country of 4.5 million is above 13 percent, and the ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for a year or more — have more than doubled, to 5.3 percent.
In other words, the policy of austerity is an abject failure.And what about the countries that use massive government stimulus? China spent $586 billion on their stimulus plan to thwart the Great Recession. Now they are having to put the brakes on their expansion to prevent overheating.
So what have we learned?
1.) This new found love of lower government spending is politically motivated. It has nothing to do with altruism or love of country. It's about the November elections. Period.
2.) Government spending has been and always will be part of the the GDP equation
3.) Countries that tried austerity are worse off for it.
4.) Countries that inject massive amounts of the proper stimulus (such as infrastructure spending) grow at high rates.
To begin, for comparative purposes it's eerily convenient that the Dems headed into their 1994 slaughter with the same number of seats they do today: 256.* Though same in number, the two Democratic coalitions are not the same geographically, as Table 1 shows. Compiling the data, I knew that the Democratic caucus today would be less southern, more northeastern, and more western than it was 16 years ago. But what amazed me was just how regionally uniform the Democratic majority was back in '94: Remarkably, in every region the Democrats controlled between 58 percent and 60 percent of the seats. That's hardly the case for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's coalition today, for which the Democratic share ranges from a southern low of 43 percent to a northeastern high of 82 percent. Obviously, there is more than one way to reach 256. (A number that itself freaks me out a bit because it is the square of 16, and thus also 2 raised to the eighth power.)
What I then did, using CB analyst Isaac Wood's current House race ratings, was compare what the House in a potential 112th Congress would look like under two scenarios: a "regular wave" scenario in which the Democrats hold or win all "likely" or "leaning" races, the GOP does the same, but the GOP wins all "toss-up" contests (net GOP gain: 36 seats); and another, "big wave" scenario in which the GOP wins all of the above plus swings any races presently ranked as "leaning Democrat" (net gain: 61).
What's interesting about the two scenarios is the geographic distribution of the potential gains. Short story? In the latter, "big wave" scenario the Republicans double their pickups in the Northeast and Far West, giving them enough to build a majority, whereas they fall short in the regular wave scenario because southern and midwestern seats captured (or recaptured from 2006 or 2008) are insufficient to elevate John Boehner into the Speaker's office, as you can see in Table 2 below.
What I didn't have room for, and Isaac and Larry asked me not to bog the piece down with, was an examination of specific House contests. (There's just too many House seats to cover, and that would make the piece longer and noisier.) But with the benefit of a bit more follow-up space here, I wanted to examine just a handful of those "leaning Democratic" House seats that, in a big or at least big-enough-to-flip-the-chamber scenario, would be part of the new Republican majority for the 112th Congress.
Three of Wood's "leaning Democratic" seats in particular jumped right off the ranking sheet for me: Arizona 5, Michigan 9, and New Jersey 3. Why? Because all three have about the same white share of the population (roughly 80 percent), which means incumbents there are unlikely to be saved by an uptick in post-Obama, non-white voter turnout, or damaged by a midterm drop-off in non-white voters; and all three feature above-national-average household incomes. In other words, these are not working-class white districts more likely to fall because they bear more of the brunt of the economic recession, nor are they districts with significant non-white populations that may hold the line for the Democratic House candidates running there. If affluent, college-educated white voters of what Ron Brownstein calls the "Diploma Belt" variety turn against the Administration and the Democrats, you probably get Speaker Boehner; if not, you probably keep Speaker Pelosi.
To be sure, if control of the House is very narrowly decided come November, the result will be "overdetermined," in the sense that any one of a number of demographic or regional or economic splits can be cited as the reason the GOP did or did not swing enough seats, even though it's never that simple. Still, remember that the coalition Barack Obama assembled two years ago depended heavily upon non-white voters and affluent white voters. We can expect a drop-off of some, uncertain magnitude among non-white voters, especially those who turned out for the first time in 2008. What will be equally interesting, and perhaps pivotal, is what the rate of defection (or abstention) will be among affluent whites this year--and districts like AZ-5, MI-9, and NJ-3 this November will provide part of the answer.
*NB: For simplicity's sake, and to have the same 435-seat baseline, I simply counted any vacant seats, then or today, as belonging to the party that last held them.
The big spike you see in 2008 is California recognizing gay marriage through the courts, and then un-recognizing it through the passage of Proposition 8. Right now, it's possible to marry your same-sex partner in Buenos Aires, in Mexico City, in Ames, Iowa, and in Pretoria, South Africa, but not in San Francisco. With countries like Argentina and Portugal now recognizing same-sex marriages, however, the global trajectory has returned to its slow-but-steady upward pace.
Ugandan police have suggested that the actual attack maybe have been perpetrated by members of a Ugandan group, called the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), who are based from nearby D.R. Congo.
The attacks are indicative of the complex, troubled and often contradictory state of affairs in the Great Lakes region, as well as broader East Africa (including Sudan). Each country in the region has pockets of discontent, rebellion and in some cases, outright war, ranging from the ethno-political battles of Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda to terroristic marauding by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, northern Uganda, and elsewhere.
1. Somalia. To begin with, it is not surprising to see Al Shabab claiming responsibility for the Uganda attacks, regardless of whether they carried out or supported them. Both the Ugandan and Burundian military have troops stationed (and occasionally fighting) in Mogadishu as the firepower that supports the African Union's AMISOM (AU Mission in Somalia). AMISOM, which has both an AU mandate and a UN Security Council mandate, was established in 2007 to support the interim Somalia government. Al Shabab, among other anti-government movements, opposed the deployment of peacekeepers, denouncing them as meddling intruders who would be attacked if they did not leave. Since 2007, over 50 AMISOM soldiers have been killed, and nearly 100 wounded.
That said, the AMISOM mandate was crafted almost exclusively to avoid a coup, rather than defeat any of the insurgent movements, pacify the country, or protect Somalia civilians (like the NATO mission in Afghanistan for example). The Ugandan and Burudian soldiers basically protect key installations, like the Airport and Presidential palace, from attack by rebels. With the Kampala attack, however, (US-backed) Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised to send more troops, and to expand the role of the peacekeeping force to an offensive one as well, with license to attack and destroy insurgents.
2. Uganda. Uganda's most famous and feared rebel group was actually not at all involved (as far as we know, at least) with Sunday's bombing. Called the Lord's Resistance Army, this group has wrecked havoc in the Great lakes region since the late 1980s, though operations by the Congolese army, the Ugandan military, and the United Nations peacekeeping force in DR Congo (MONUC) have landed blows against the group.
The LRA are a bizarre bunch. Basically, in the last 25 years they have wandered to raid, pillage, rape and kill from Uganda to eastern Central Africa Republic, northeast DR Congo and southern Sudan. Occasionally supported by the Khartoum government in Sudan as a retaliation to Museveni's support for the SPLA/M rebels in Southern Sudan (Juba, et al.), they began as an anti-government group in Uganda. Over time, however, it became clear that the LRA had almost no coherant ideological mooring, but instead existed as a group of brutal, terroristic and egotistical bandits that used child soldiers to commit shocking atrocities. To call them a band of psychotic thugs would be a compliment.
The second group, the Allied Democratic Forces, were previously more politically involved (in opposition to the Museveni regime), though had been driven by Ugandan and Congolese forces to near extinction. Mainly because they were linked to the Kampala bombings, DRC military operations began yesterday against what is left of the group in Northeastern DR Congo.
3. Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. With the so-called Second Congolese War ending in 2003, many hoped that peace consolidation and recovery would take place quickly and effectively. After decades of conflict in the region, including the Rwandan civil war (1990-1993) and 1994 genocide and the Burundian civil war (which did not officially end until 2005), the departure of many foreign soldiers, and a committment from regional governments to support the transitional government of now President Joseph Kabila (son of assassinated former President Laurent Kabila).
Unfortunately, cross border rebels from Rwanda and Burundi continue to operate in DRC, while the Rwandan government, under former Tutsi rebel leader Paul Kagame, continues to have designs on land and minerals in the eastern DRC. At the same time, instability continues to plague Burundi, with election violence threatening the ongoing election season in that country.
Other key things to consider in the region are the upcoming referendum on the status of Southern Sudan (expected to vote to break off from the Sudan), tensions in northern Kenya among pastoralist groups and between pastoralists and settled communities, and the growing international understanding that high-value mineral resources are funding arms and armies in the region.
From a western perspective, it will be important, as we respond to the Kampala attack, to view the events and conditions in context. Any kneejerk reactions that paint the violence strictly in terms of religious conflict, ideological extremism, or even international political maneuvering, are likely to be off target.
It is true that, though, that Uganda under Museveni is viewed as a strong ally of US government, as the Americans have long supported his regime, providing weapons, monetary aid and political support. This, in addition to the expressed AMISOM reasoning for the attack, may explain broader connections to Al Qaeda's (et al.).
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight's international affairs columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at email@example.com
I am beginning my next book, to be published by Yale University Press, about the fate of the Republican Party and the conservative movement in the 20 years following the end of Reagan's presidency--that is, from the start of the first Bush Administration to the end of the second. So I've been thinking a lot about Reagan, and specifically how Republicans following him dealt with his legacy. And I found myself reading that 1980 speech in full for the first time. (You can read it here, or watch the video above.)
Reagan is still deified by most Republicans and conservatives, and it's not difficult to understand why. For whatever liberals may think of his policies, or however much selective memory may permit conservatives to remember Reagan's not-always-so-conservative record, this much is indisputable: He unified his party just six short years after it was in shambles--the RNC effectively shut down at one point soon after Watergate--and just four years after that produced a 49-state victory Republicans could publicly boast. (Obviously, Richard Nixon's 1972 victory cannot be touted as proudly.) So enduring is his mythical power that we heard almost every one of the 2008 Republican presidential aspirants attempt to either invoke Reagan's legacy or present himself as the one, true heir to that legacy. Rank-and-file Republicans can show their continuing devotion in a variety of ways, from "What Would Reagan Do?" t-shirts to Reagan-themed bumper stickers.
In any case, Reagan's "A New Beginning" speech--which came almost a year to the day after Jimmy Carter's so-called "Malaise speech" delivered 31 years ago today--sought to accomplish five things. In addition to the aforementioned unifying of his party, Reagan also issued a stinging indictment of the Carter Administration; set the tone for lowering taxes and reducing the government's size and regulatory reach; addressed the energy worries of the nation; and promised a more aggressive global posture for the United States in military and diplomatic matters. Here is a short but key section (which starts around 10:45 mark of video above, if you want to watch it) that hits upon the middle three of those five themes:
As your nominee, I pledge to restore to the federal government the capacity to do the people's work without dominating their lives. I pledge to you a government that will not only work well, but wisely; its ability to act tempered by prudence and its willingness to do good balanced by the knowledge that government is never more dangerous than when our desire to have it help us blinds us to its great power to harm us.What's remarkable is how we still hear the same, core arguments about the role and functions of government--and how the policy-specific debates over matters like offshore drilling persist as well. And yet here we are, 30 years later, and the tax burden is at its lowest since 1950, the regulatory state has been cowed if not captured by the industries it is supposed to oversee, and America stands as the world's lone remaining superpower. The antipathy toward government Reagan popularized has, even if indirectly and merely in spirit, contributed to a governing approach that has led to everything from coal mine disasters to the BP oil spill. (Just to preempt comments, I'm not blaming Reagan for the BP spill; indeed, I too wonder "What Reagan Would Do" if he had cogently witnessed the de-regulatory behaviors of the previous administration. But anyone who thinks energy policy deregulation had nothing to do with the spill should read this first.) But because a lot of the goals Reagan set forth in his 1980 Detroit speech have been achieved, even if in part, it is tempting for Republicans and conservatives to conclude, "Hey, Reagan was right, so let's duplicate his model"--when, in fact, 2010 is not 1980, and a continued fixation on Reagan may be doing more to hamper than help the modern GOP.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years."
If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement. But, with the virtues that our legacy as a free people and with the vigilance that sustains liberty, we still have time to use our renewed compact to overcome the injuries that have been done to America these past three-and-a-half years.
First, we must overcome something the present administration has cooked up: a new and altogether indigestible economic stew, one part inflation, one part high unemployment, one part recession, one part runaway taxes, one party deficit spending and seasoned by an energy crisis. It's an economic stew that has turned the national stomach.
Ours are not problems of abstract economic theory. Those are problems of flesh and blood; problems that cause pain and destroy the moral fiber of real people who should not suffer the further indignity of being told by the government that it is all somehow their fault. We do not have inflation because -- as Mr. Carter says -- we have lived too well.
The head of a government which has utterly refused to live within its means and which has, in the last few days, told us that this year's deficit will be $60 billion, dares to point the finger of blame at business and labor, both of which have been engaged in a losing struggle just trying to stay even.
High taxes, we are told, are somehow good for us, as if, when government spends our money it isn't inflationary, but when we spend it, it is.
Those who preside over the worst energy shortage in our history tell us to use less, so that we will run out of oil, gasoline, and natural gas a little more slowly. Conservation is desirable, of course, for we must not waste energy. But conservation is not the sole answer to our energy needs.
America must get to work producing more energy. The Republican program for solving economic problems is based on growth and productivity.
Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our shores, untouched because the present administration seems to believe the American people would rather see more regulation, taxes and controls than more energy.
Such are the puzzles I'll ponder in the book. For now, enjoy (re)reading or viewing Reagan's pivotal, 45-minute address--a speech that set the tone for American politics for the next 30 years. Among other things, take special note of Reagan's comments about the poor, minorities and those who live in the inner cities. Notice, too, how Reagan invokes Franklin Roosevelt, for whom he voted in his younger days as a Democrat. And don't miss the remarkable ending which, if you are not already familiar, is so good I won't dare spoil it.
July 14, 2010I'm not sure I really need to spend much time explaining Bennett's mistake, but the error in a poll very much needs to be evaluated by what he calls the "absolute value" -- that is, the difference between the expected and actual result, which will necessarily be expressed as a nonnegative number. A simple example should explain why.
Update: Not So Much Additional Error
A subscriber to our e-mails writes:I believe that Mr. Silver's average error rates are overstated because he forgets that the error range is + or - when he calculates the average error for each pollster. It's a common mistake.I did check and it is true. Nate has a column on his spreadsheet labeled "error" which is the absolute value of the error (all positive numbers). The median value of this "error" for our polls is 5.08. The median error for our polls calculated based on our polls minus the actual results, however, is -0.54. When the actual margin of 4.54 is subtracted from Nate's median "error" of 5.08, the result is -0.54 (the correct value for our polls).
If you have a poll where the difference between Candidate A and Candidate B is 9 and the actual difference between the two when the votes are counted is 4, the error is +5. But if you have a poll where the difference between Candidate A and Candidate B is 4 and the actual difference when the votes are counted is 9, the error is -5, not +5.
If he says the average error for both polls is +5, his average error will be overstated by the actual average margin. You should be able to check this using his spreadsheet.
If Nate used the absolute value in calculating his pollster error, it makes a mess of his ratings because his error rate for each pollster is incorrect.
Time for v4.1 of the ratings.
- Dick Bennett
Suppose that we were evaluating the accuracy of a pollster based on four of its surveys: a poll of the Kerry-Bush presidential race in Arkansas in 2004, of the Ohio Republican presidential primary in 2008, of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary in 2010, and of the Minnesota gubernatorial race in 1998. Let's say that the pollster did poorly in each of these races: they had Kerry winning by 10 points Arkansas when in fact Bush won by that margin; they had McCain winning by 9 points in Ohio when in fact he won by 29 points; they had Arlen Specter winning in Pennsylvania when in fact it went to Sestak, and they had Coleman winning in Minnesota when in fact Ventura did. On average, the pollster missed the final margin between the candidates by 15 points; this is what we would report as its average error:
This seems straightforward enough -- but apparently it isn't! Instead of the error being measured by the the difference the projected and actual margins between the candidates -- this will necessarily be a nonnegative number -- Bennett thinks it should sometimes be a negative number instead. Thus, the error in Arkansas might be designated as a +20, because we happened to list Kerry's name first in the spreadsheet. But the error in Ohio might be listed as a -20, because we happened to list John McCain's name first.
Bennett then claims that the +20 and the -20 should cancel one another out! Even though this pollster missed the margin by 20 points in both states, we should instead report their error as zero. Likewise, their +10 error in Pennsylvania is cancelled out by their -10 in Minnesota.
It's pretty easy to spot the semantic flaw here: if I'm firing a rifle, and miss the target by 7 feet to the left with my first bullet, and 7 feet to the right with the next one, that doesn't make me a good shot "on average". But, there's another reason that Bennett's method doesn't really work. Suppose that we simply flip the positions of McCain and Huckabee, and Ventura and Coleman, in our spreadsheet. We're changing nothing at all about the polls themselves, nor the results of the elections -- we're just changing which candidate happens to be designated as 'Candidate A' and which happens to be designated as 'Candidate B'. If we do this, all the errors revert back to positive numbers by Bennett's method, and the firm's average error is (positive) 15 points after all:
On the other hand, we could flip the positions of Bush and Kerry, and Sestak and Specter, instead. Then the firm's average "error", by Bennett's method, would be -15 points, rather than +15.
I'm not really sure what it means to have an error of -15 points. Is that better than zero? Worse than zero? It doesn't really work in a sentence: "According to Dick Bennett, firm XYZ's polls have missed by an average of negative 15 points." What does that mean?
If I were being kinder to Bennett, I would point out that if we were measuring bias rather than accuracy -- how much a firm's polling missed toward one side or the other -- we very much would need to keep track of the positive and negative signs. If a firm's poll was 20 points too high on the Democratic candidate's margin of victory in Florida, but 20 points too low on the Democratic candidate's margin in Ohio, we could call the former a +20 and the latter a -20, and it would be proper to average them out to zero: the firm would be unbiased, although nevertheless horribly inaccurate. (Note that this also only really works if you have some meaningful dimension by which to differentiate the two sets of candidates, such as one being a Democrat and the other being a Republican; it wouldn't have any meaning in the case of nonpartisan elections, for instance.)
But I don't think we should trip all over to ourselves to be kind here: this is an incredibly elementary mistake for someone in a statistics-intensive profession to make. Bennett's polls have been cited 54 times by the New York Times since 1990; would the New York Times cite the work of a physicist who claimed that gravity didn't exist?
Come to think of it, it was just yesterday that the Times ran a profile of a physicist who thinks that gravity is some sort of elaborate illusion. Perhaps Bennett has also reached some deeper plane of understanding in which the rules of logic and mathematics as we ordinarily understand them no longer apply. Or perhaps he has no clue what he's talking about. We report, you decide!