2012 - %3, November

Craziness at the Polls? Get the Evidence on Your Smartphone

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 4:13 AM PST

Judging from recent experience, close presidential elections tend to coincide with problems at the polls. Remember the 2000 election's butterfly ballots and dangling chads? Or, four years later, the 10-hour lines in Knox County, Ohio? Though civil rights groups worry that history will again repeat itself this year, at least one thing will be different: what's in our pockets. Anybody with a smartphone can now shoot video of polling irregularities and upload it to the internet. But someone must still curate all of this citizen journalism, and that's where a group called Video the Vote comes in.

A member of a network of voting rights groups known as the Election Protection Coalition, Video the Vote wants anybody who notices voting problems to document the situation and bring the footage to its attention. "In an era of partisan voter purges, onerous ID requirements, and organized intimidation, it's not enough for citizens to just cast their ballots," says Matt Pascarella, Video the Vote's campaign director. In addition to collecting citizen uploads, he'll field a national network of his own videographers to target swing-state hotspots.

You might end up seeing some of these videos on the Mother Jones website; I'll be embedded with Video the Vote office during much of Election Day. In addition, Mother Jones is encouraging readers to report any poll problems, voter intimidation, and vote suppression attempts you might encounter via our short Report Your Voting Problem form (available below). We're tracking problems at our interactive map and mega-guide to election problems.

For more on how to work with Video the Vote, check out the group's promotional video:

You can help Mother Jones track voter suppression and poll problems around the country—report your problem using this short form:

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The Undecided Voter Playlist

| Mon Nov. 5, 2012 3:08 AM PST

It's Election Day's eve, and even as voters are raring up to perform their patriotic duty, polls taken as recently as last week show a small percentage of registered voters who are still undecided about who they will choose for president.

To which any reasonable person might ask, REALLY!? Do these people not have access to a TV or computer? Do they lack a radio? Or a phone? Or a freaking mailbox!? Is it that they are uninformed about the issues? We're baffled, honestly.

Election Forecasting Update - 4 November 2012

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 10:11 PM PST

Here's my penultimate update on the status of the most popular presidential forecasting models. On the top are Nate Silver and Andrew Tanenbaum; on the bottom are Sam Wang and Josh Putnam. Sam's model showed an unnerving single-day decline in Obama's numbers today, but all four models still predict a convincing Democratic victory, with Obama winning an average of 305 electoral votes.

So what are the odds that these models are wrong? The basic polling itself is almost certainly sound, so there are really only two ways that the polls could be significantly off:

  • The few remaining undecided voters could all break for Romney. However, this is unlikely given the polling numbers we're seeing, since they'd have to break something like 80%-20% to overcome Obama's lead in the key swing states. There's no precedent for that.
  • On the great gittin' up day, all those folks who say they support Obama might not get to the polls in the same numbers as all the super-energized Romney supporters. But this is basically just an assertion that the likely voter screens are wrong on virtually all the polls, something that seems unlikely since the screens are little more than questions asking whether you plan to vote. They've worked in the past, and there's no reason to think they won't work this year just as well. For all practical purposes, the "enthusiasm gap"—if it exists—is already accounted for in the polling numbers.

But suppose there is a systematic bias in the polls. How big would it have to be in order for Romney to win? This is what Sam Wang's "meta-margin" tells us, and it currently stands at 2.72%. That's how far off the polls would have to be—either because undecideds break heavily for Romney or because the pollsters' likely voter screens are wrong—in order for Romney to win, and it's a pretty big number. It's unlikely that either of these effects is anywhere near that large.

What else? Conservatives are currently pinning some of their hopes on poll internals, which show independents breaking strongly for Romney. However, Nate Cohn suggests this is just an artifact of the Republican Party's lousy brand image these days: the tea party has driven away lots of centrist Republicans, who now call themselves independents even though they still plan to vote for Romney. This is likely what's driving up Romney's share of the "independent" vote.

For myself, I'm still predicting an Obama win for two reasons. First, models that are based on fundamentals suggest that Obama—an incumbent presiding over a so-so economy—should score a modest win. Second, Obama is leading in nearly all the polls two days before the election, and that also suggests a modest win. There's no magic here. Both of the models that seem like reliable predictors are pointing in the same direction, so that's the direction I'm leaning too. I guess I'd add to that one anecdotal piece of evidence: the Romney campaign is spending a lot of time complaining that the polls are wrong, and that's usually something that only losing campaigns do. In any case, we'll know in 48 hours.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: 'Flight,' Denzel, and New 'Star Wars' Movies From Disney (!?!?!)

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 3:58 PM PST

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for the audio):

  • Flight, a bruisingly beautiful character study, in which Denzel Washington plays a self-destructive "hero" pilot. (Read my review here.)
  • The recently announced post-Lucas Star Wars movies from Disney, and what they (could) mean for the franchise. (Alyssa has some great insight on the big news here, here, here, here, and here.)

Listen:

Chart of the Day: The Power of the Right-Wing Echo Chamber

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 12:54 PM PST

Via John Sides, here's a fascinating little data point about the power of the conservative echo chamber. A couple of days ago Brian Schaffner wrote a post about a UMass poll he conducted across several days in early October. One of the questions was whether unemployment had increased or decreased over the past year. The correct answer, of course, is that it had decreased: at the time the poll was conducted, unemployment over the previous twelve months had declined from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent.

As you'd expect, liberals were more likely to answer this question correctly since it jibes with their political preferences. Interestingly, though, the poll was taken over the period October 2-8, and right in the middle of that week the unemployment figures for September were released. As you'll recall, unemployment dropped sharply in that report, down to 7.8 percent, and the fact that this was part of a longer-term trend was widely reported.

Everyone saw this news, and polling on October 5 showed a sharp increase in the number of people who knew that unemployment was down. But here's the interesting thing: among liberals and independents, the number getting the answer right stayed higher over the next several days. Apparently the news sunk in. But among conservatives, the number getting the answer right started to decline immediately. Within three days, as the chart below shows, they were answering the question exactly the same as they had before the unemployment report came out. Schaffner comments:

It is important to recall that Republicans immediately started questioning the veracity of the jobs numbers, with some suggesting that the Obama administration had "cooked the books" for political gain....In short, conservative elites provided conservative voters with an argument that allowed those conservative voters to bring the information from the jobs report into line with their pre-existing political preferences. The end result was that liberals updated their beliefs about the unemployment rate based on the jobs report while conservatives ultimately did not.

This is the power of the Drudge/Fox/Limbaugh axis. I don't doubt that liberals do the same thing with news that discomforts them, but I'll bet they don't do it quite as fast or as strongly. We lefties just don't rely on hardcore ideological news sources as much. Too much reality seeps in whether we like it or not. Conservatives don't have this problem.

Gears Turn, Lights Blink, and Mitt Romney Tells Us His Favorite TV Shows

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 10:01 AM PST

For their final pre-election issue, TV Guide asked President Obama about his favorite TV shows. You've probably read about this: he likes Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and Modern Family. And SportsCenter. Lots and lots of SportsCenter. But what about Mitt Romney? Has even TV Guide succumbed to liberal Hollywood bias, refusing to give him equal time? Is Walter Annenberg rolling in his grave?

No. TV Guide asked Romney about his favorite shows, but apparently he spent too much time focus-grouping his answers to make their deadline. Wouldn't want to accidentally offend any key voter demographics, after all! However, once the Romneytron 3000 finished its calculations, it turned out that he likes Modern Family, Justified, 30 Rock and NCIS. A perfect blend of critical favorites and middlebrow taste. I'd expect no less from him.

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Every Single Political Game-Changer of the 2012 Election

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 3:08 AM PDT

A few months back, the New York Times' statistics guru Nate Silver made an observation: "The phrase 'game changer' has been used 2,870 times in news outlets over the past 30 days." That was in July, before the debates, 47 percent, and about three dozen-over-caffeinated Drudge Report headlines. When I did the same search on Thursday, I found 19,600 results, which, all things considered, seems a bit low. Since the phrase entered the Pantheon of Political Cliches™ four years ago, the term has become so ubiquitous a crutch for political pundits that it officially entered the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary earlier this year.

Here is a list of every event in the last 10 months that has been labeled a game-changer in the presidential race:

CarsSandy's arrival. Chris Christie. President Obama's divorce papers. Donald Trump's challenge to Obama. The first debate. Fox News report on CIA's request for military backup in Benghazi. Pennsylvania. Romney's tax plan. Arizona's birther law. The revelation that President Obama is not very good at basketball. Lindsay Lohan's Romney endorsement. The second debate. Paul Ryan. Those Sarah Silverman GOTV videos. Jobs. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. That Daily Caller video. DHS immigration directive. A hypothetical Romney pledge to only serve one term. Romney's VMI speech. Dreams From My Real Father. A hypothetical joint US–Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. A hypothetical debate question about why Obama didn't dispatch F-16s to Benghazi. The youth vote. Conservative turnout in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Ohio. The entire election. The Osama Bin Laden raid. A book about the Osama Bin Laden raid. A hypothetical McCain vice presidency. The Benghazi cover-up. A new book from WorldNetDaily. A hypothetical question about Simpson–Bowles. First-time Puerto Rican voters. Latinos. Asian-Americans. The 47 percent tape. Paul Ryan's "makers and takers" riff. Suburban women. October jobs report. September jobs report. Democrats' ground game. Obama's tech operation. James O'Keefe's voter fraud sting. Gallup early voting poll. October 27 Gallup tracking poll. Gloria Allred. The Walker recall. Paul Ryan's interview with WJRT-TV, Flint. January jobs report. The Des Moines Register endorsement. Ann Romney's RNC speech. Paul Ryan's VP speech. Mitt Romney's RNC speech. Dick Morris' television ad (as reported by Dick Morris). Middle East chaos. Todd Akin. Bill Clinton's DNC speech. Obama's gay marriage endorsement. Ladies. Virgil Goode. Obama's voter registration figures. Dinesh D'Souza's movie. 1998 video of Obama making case for progressivism. Boston Globe's Bain story. Hypothetical release of Romney tax returns from hackers who demanded ransom payment in Bitcoins. The status quo.

Not everything can be a game-changer, though. In some cases, pundits have concluded that an event that might have become a game-changer was not, in fact, a game-changer. Note that some events appear in both categories:

The first debate. The second debate. The third debate. The vice presidential debate. Fisher v. University of Texas. Yawning. October jobs report. Richard Mourdock's rape comment. Colorado's marijuana initiative. Celebrity endorsers. Colin Powell. Ann Romney's RNC speech. Benghazi. Ross Perot. Paul Ryan. The Osama Bin Laden raid. Roseanne Barr's television ad. Obama's DNC speech. Michael Bloomberg. Dinesh D'Souza's movie. That Daily Caller video.

The moral of the story is that we're still really bad at predicting the future. 

Obama is Bad on Civil Liberties, But Romney Would Be Much Worse

| Sat Nov. 3, 2012 9:40 PM PDT

Like a lot of liberals, I'm not very happy with President Obama's handling of national security and civil liberties issues. Just to name a few of them, I think drone strikes are overused; U.S. citizens overseas shouldn't be targeted for assassination without judicial oversight; surveillance rules should be considerably stricter; and the state secrets privilege ought to be reined in. At the same time, I recognize that a lot of this stuff is dictated more by public and congressional opinion than it is by Obama himself, so I tend to be a little more tolerant of Obama's poor record than some.

In any case, Mark Kleiman reminds us all today that Mitt Romney would be even worse. Last year Romney was asked whether he thinks waterboarding is torture. Here was his extremely matter-of-fact answer:

I don't, but I don't....I'm not going to lay out the list of what is and what is not torture....We will have a policy of doing what we think is in our best interest. We'll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.

Obama's track record on civil liberties is poor. At the same time, Obama at least tried to close Guantanamo; Romney wants to double it. Obama and Eric Holder at least made an effort to hold civilian trials for terrorist suspects; Romney is contemptuous of them. Obama banned torture; Romney wants to bring it back. And Obama has been restrained on intervention in Syria and Iran; Romney is eager to set red lines and begin directly arming rebels.

Anyone whose vote is based on civil liberties and national security issues ought to be aware of what it means to do anything that makes a Romney victory more likely. As bad as you think things are now, it means implicitly supporting the election of someone who would make them appreciably worse. It's sophistry to pretend otherwise.

Conspiracy Theory Update: Chip Implant Edition

| Sat Nov. 3, 2012 8:18 PM PDT

Apparently Obama plans to implant chips in all of us. Really. 

Good News and Bad News for Obama Supporters

| Sat Nov. 3, 2012 1:11 PM PDT

Are you an Obama supporter who's worried that your guy is going to lose? Actually, I guess that's redundant, isn't it? I should have just asked if you're an Obama supporter. In any case, if you're looking for concrete reasons to be worried about Tuesday's election, Robert Wright has you covered. All the reasons to be a worrywart are here.

Sam Wang, on the other hand, isn't worried a bit:

President Obama is peeling away. As you can see from the electoral vote (EV) estimator, he is the candidate with the momentum, not Romney. In terms of EV or the Meta-margin, he's made up just about half the ground he ceded to Romney after Debate #1. And the indicators are still headed straight up....A few days ago, the word was that Team Romney was buying ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. If he wins either of those states I will eat a bug. Ohio...a really big bug. And yes, I will post a photo.

So there you have it. This is a full service blog: we give you reasons to worry and reasons to hope. The rest is up to you.