2012 - %3, November

Eggheads: The Secret Source of Democratic Campaign Success

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 1:45 PM EST

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab, a book about the increasing use of social science experiments to improve the effectiveness of political campaigns. The first big-name politician to really make use of this was Rick Perry, but since then it's been almost exclusively a Democratic phenomenon. Dylan Matthews asks why:

ISSENBERG: The reason Perry developed that partnership is that he made them an unusual offer, which is that they could publish their work. Most campaigns want to keep it proprietary, so the academics who are willing to work with them are often people who are aligned with their political goals, and not necessarily in it for research purposes.

Hmmm. According to Issenberg, Democrats faced a crisis in 2004 that motivated them to figure out how to run their campaigns better. But that's not all. They also found it pretty easy to find plenty of eager help within academia:

The left has been way better than the right at engaging the political scientists and economists who use these techniques to measure real-world cause and effect. You just have dozens of professors and graduate students who want to work with Democratic campaigns, women's groups and labor groups, and very little of that on the right.

....The fact that Republicans lost so overwhelmingly in 2008, I think, delayed an awareness of the technical gap between the two sides....For the sake of innovation on the Republican side, the best thing that could happen to them is that they lose narrowly on Tuesday, that the story becomes how Obama and his allies ran a mechanically superior campaign.

....That's the first step. The second step is finding social scientists who want anything to do with the Republican party in the 21st century, and that probably won't be solved on Tuesday one way or the other. That's a bigger cultural problem.

So there really are advantages to being (a) reality-based and (b) non-troglodytes. This is, truly, the revenge of the nerds.

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Rick Scott Ignores Fla. Early-Vote Mess to Stump With Mitt Romney

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 1:26 PM EST

With friends like these, does Mitt Romney need enemies?

Mitt Romney's final pre-election visit to Florida Monday morning included a surprise guest: the state's Republican governor, Rick Scott. "Tomorrow night, Florida is going to go big for Mitt Romney, and it'll be a precursor to what happens in the country," Scott told the crowd in his warm-up moments before Romney took the stage.

You might expect a presidential candidate to stump with a friendly swing-state governor on the eve of a tight election. But Scott's no ordinary governor, as we've written before. The political novice and former health care executive, who pumped $70 million of his own money into his successful 2010 campaign, has alienated conservatives and progressives alike with a failed costly legal challenge to Obamacare, a failed attempt to charge welfare recipients for their pee, and threatened cuts to disabled careliberal arts education, rape counseling, and tuberculosis treatment during "the worst outbreak in 20 years."

A mid-October PPP poll, taken at the height of Republicans' post-Denver debate bounce, found 37 percent of respondents approving of Rick Scott and 46 percent disapproving. Incredibly, that was a near-all-time high in popularity for Scott. When asked if they'd vote for him or a generic Democrat in the next election, the no-name Dem won, 45-43. Numbers like those have led PPP to call Scott "the most toxic of the raft of Tea Party governors."

And all that was before this weekend, when Scott capped off his yearlong campaign to tighten voting laws by denying appeals from thousands of Floridians to restore the state's historically generous early-voting hours, after multiple counties reported snaking lines of voters with wait times of up to half a day.

Would Mitt Romney Be Good For Short-Term Economic Growth?

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 12:31 PM EST

Matt Yglesias makes the case that Mitt Romney might be better for short-term economic growth than Obama:

Insofar as I have to guess, I think short-term growth will be faster under Romney than Obama for three reasons. First, in the post-1980 era you get bigger budget deficits with Republicans in the White House than with Democrats and that's a good thing in the short-term. Second, the Federal Reserve seems to be biased and delivers looser monetary policy with Republicans in the White House. Third, Republicans are much more likely to promote short-term economic growth at the expense of environmental concerns.

Maybe! However, I don't think his second and third items hold water. The Fed does seem to be biased in favor of Republican administrations, but this is mostly in the last year before an election. What's more, Fed policy is already pretty loose by historical standards; Ben Bernanke doesn't seem to think very highly of the current Republican Congress; and by 2015 the economy is likely to be in pretty good shape no matter who's president. On the environmental front, I think you could make the case that weaker regulations might spur growth a bit in the medium term, but not in the short term. Partly this is because it takes a fair amount of time to turn things around even via executive order, and partly it's because, despite conservative wailing, the Obama EPA really hasn't done very much that, even arguably, is more than marginally harmful to economic growth. Coal plants are in trouble mostly because of competition from cheap natural gas, not because Obama is killing them off.

But that does leave Matt's first reason, and that one is....surprisingly hard to judge. If Romney is elected, the House will immediately vote to restore the Bush tax cuts and possibly cut taxes even further. But can they get enough Democrats in the Senate to peel off and support them? Maybe. Spending is similar. If Obama is president, Republicans will almost certainly be adamant about implementing spending cuts. If Romney is president, they might decide to compromise on some modest cuts and just let it go. Maybe.

So it's no sure thing, but yes: the chances are probably higher of running big deficits under Romney than under Obama. Republicans won't call it stimulus, they'll call it tax cuts on the one side and restoring our military to greatness on the other, but tomayto, tomahto. It's all the same, and it's probably a bit more likely if Romney is elected.

In other words, Republicans will agree to help rescue the economy only if we put their guy in the White House. Capiche?

Poor Early Voting Turnout Apparently a Big Plus for Republicans

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 11:46 AM EST

I love this headline from Katrina Trinko over at NRO:

RNC: In Key Swing States, More Republicans than Democrats Haven’t Already Voted

Got that? No? Let's allow the RNC to explain:

[Democrats] are cannibalizing their Election Day voters. The great turnout operation they claim to have isn’t turning out enough new or sporadic voters; they’re largely getting their reliable voters to vote early instead of on Election Day.

The Republican strategy has been the reverse of the Democrats’. We have turned out our voters who aren’t as likely to come to the polls on Election Day, securing their votes during early voting. Now, all that remains to do is give our reliable voters the final reminder needed to get them to the polls Tuesday. And we have many more reliable voters left than the Democrats.

Let's translate: Democrats are kicking our butts in early voting, so, um, that means they're losing. We, on the other hand, are cleverly saving up all our votes for Election Day.

Uh huh.

Voter Suppression Enters the Home Stretch

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 11:07 AM EST

Mike Tomasky writes today about something that a lot of us have spent the past couple of years deploring: the increasingly naked Republican campaign to suppress the nonwhite vote.

Up to now its measures were local and somewhat haphazard—scare-tactic fliers circulated in black neighborhoods, GOP elections officials "forgetting" to ship the right number of voting machines to minority areas, that sort of thing....Now, though, in these past couple of years, the GOP strategy has been institutionalized. It's come above ground, and the thugs in black outfits distributing handbills in the dead of night before Election Day have been replaced or at least supplemented by thugs in suits and ties trying to put a respectable sheen on this obviously anti-democratic business.

This is why NAACP president Benjamin Jealous calls the current Republican tactics "James Crow Esquire": the tactics may not be as as brutal as they were 50 years ago, but the goal is the same. Ed Kilgore, a son of Georgia, comments:

That's probably fitting. This election does, after all, follow a four-year period in which conservatives have gotten into the habit of publicly proclaiming things they used to keep to themselves: anyone receiving any sort of government assistance is a "looter" or a "taker;" poor and minority people "vote themselves welfare;" voting is a "privilege, not a right;" people who don't pay federal income taxes shouldn't be allowed to vote, etc., etc. The desire to suppress votes to one extent or another has gotten deeply into the DNA of a party that considers itself under siege by demographic change.

And quite predictably, two of the more brazen GOP pols, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, are making a spectacle of themselves in their zeal to restrict voting opportunities. If one of them showed up outside an early polling place with a bullwhip and police dogs, it wouldn't seem out of place, and many of their "base" supporters would lustily cheer. After all, when Husted defies a judge to require voters to fill out forms establishing their right to vote, or when Scott turns away voters standing in line for hours, that's some more "looters" who won't have the opportunity to take away the good virtuous folks' tax dollars or (earned!) Medicare benefits.

When it comes to photo ID laws, Republicans at least have the outward semblance of an argument: they're trying to prevent voter fraud. There's no evidence of more than a tiny handful of people ever committing the kind of fraud that photo ID would stop, but at least it's an argument. But pair that up with the recent jihad against early voting hours, and even the pretense of an argument goes away. There's nothing these two things have in common except for their unusually negative impact on demographic groups—including blacks, Hispanics, students, and the poor—that tend to vote for Democrats. It's the GOP's last-ditch effort to stave off demographic apocalypse.

Is there any kind of silver lining here? Probably not, but if there is one, it's this: it might backfire. The GOP has been so ravenous in its desire to suppress the vote of groups it doesn't like that it might make them more motivated than ever to vote. We'll see.

In the meantime, the MoJo team is following reports of voter suppression throughout the election tomorrow. Our summary of voter suppression around the country is here. Check out the main site and the political blog to keep up to date.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 5, 2012

Mon Nov. 5, 2012 10:53 AM EST

Marines and sailors assigned to Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to board a CH-53E Super Stallion assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 Reinforced, at LZ Falcon, during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 30, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher Q. Stone.

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California Propositions - November 2012

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 9:43 AM EST

Tomorrow is voting day, so here's a recap of my recommendations on California's 11 ballot initiatives. The original post, which contains a bit more detail, is here.

  1. Temporary tax hike to benefit schools: YES. State general fund spending has been cut significantly over the past few years, and in real per-capita terms is substantially lower than it was a decade ago. There's just no more room to squeeze, and Prop 30 is a pretty good compromise measure that provides the extra funding we need.

  2. Miscellaneous budget and local government reform: NO. This is a hodgepodge of good ideas and bad ideas that doesn't pass a high enough bar to deserve support.

  3. Paycheck protection: NO. This isn't a nonpartisan reform that affects both unions and corporations. It's a zombie initiative—the third of its kind in the past 14 years—that devastates the political power of unions without affecting corporations at all. It's a scam.

  4. Auto insurance: NO. This initiative is good for Mercury Insurance, whose CEO is bankrolling it, but not for the rest of us.

  5. Replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole: YES. The death penalty simply doesn't work in California. It's time to face up to this and get rid of it.

  6. Human Trafficking: NO. These kinds of laws should be written by legislatures, not carved into stone forever by ballot initiatives.

  7. Three strikes: YES. Prop. 36 modifies our three-strikes law so that 25-to-life sentences are imposed only if the third strike is a serious one. This is just common sense.

  8. GM food labeling: NO. The current scientific consensus doesn't support the notion that GM foods are hazardous to human health. Aside from that, Prop 37 places requirements on supermarkets that are overly burdensome, and also has the usual initiative problem that its rules are written in stone. But this is an evolving subject, and when the science changes the law should be able to change with it. It's an issue that should be left for the legislature. For a different view, check out Tom Philpott's rebuttal here.

  9. Temporary tax hike to benefit schools: NO. Prop. 38 competes with Prop. 30 as a tax measure to benefit public schools. Prop 30 is a better bet.

  10. Tax treatment for multistate businesses: YES. This initiative fixes a dumb tax deal passed several years ago. It produces better incentives for businesses and raises a bit more money too.

  11. Redistricting: YES. This is a referendum, not an initiative. A Yes vote will uphold the state Senate redistricting plan approved by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

What the 2012 Presidential Election Is Really About

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 6:23 AM EST

Hyperbole, false promises, and negative portrayals of one's opponent are all hallmarks of a presidential campaign. Both sides do it, though not always to the same degree. Of course, the stakes are high when it comes to deciding the next "leader of the free world" so it's no great surprise that half-truths and blatant falsehoods rule the day, or that discussion tends to generate more heat than light.

But what we're often told is at stake and what is actually at stake on November 6 are rarely the same thing. In the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, partisans on both sides tend to exaggerate emotionally charged issues while ignoring what the election is actually about.

VIDEO: Weary New Jersey Residents Face Another Ordeal: Voting

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 6:13 AM EST

Hurricane Sandy took away a lot of things: power, homes, even lives. For residents of Moonachie, New Jersey, a small town just across the Hudson River from New York City, the storm took a stab at their basic right to vote. After severe flooding here, much of the town remains without power, which led local election officials to decide over the weekend to close all the polling places and redirect residents to consolidated locations nearby.

It's the same story all across the state: Some 300 polling places shut down or moved, according to the governor's office, creating a logistical nightmare for election planners and a headache for voters (for what it's worth, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to allow votes to be emailed or faxed in). And while New Jersey, a solidly blue state, has never seen less than 70 percent turnout for a presidential election, residents here say until the lights come back on, casting a vote is the last thing on their minds.      

In the YouTube Music Vote, Mitt Romney is Toast

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 6:13 AM EST
Like a boss!

Happy Election Eve! NOW EVERYBODY CALM DOWN. New polling data shows at least half of us will be bitterly disappointed with the outcome. Meanwhile, a full 100 percent are grappling with fear of the unknown. So to pass these nailbiting hours, we've compiled a playlist of original songs inspired by our presidential candidates. This year, however, they're all about Mitt—for or against—and by and large, "invariably fucking awful" in the words of my editor.  (An aside: In '07-'08, Obama had lyrical endorsements from Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, Common and Young Jeezy. Today, Romney has this guy. A sign of the times?)