Kevin Drum - November 2012

Exit Polls Suggest Obama Winning Ohio

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:41 PM EST

More tea leaves. Here are the exit poll results from Ohio. Women make up 52 percent of the sample, which implies that Obama has won 51.7 percent of the total two-party vote. Stay tuned!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We Should Phase Out the Bush Tax Cuts

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 9:29 PM EST

Matt Yglesias alerts me to an "excellent idea" from Maine's newly-elected independent senator, Angus King:

I was in favor of ending the Bush-era tax cuts immediately, but after continued poor employment numbers, we need a more nuanced approach. We should consider pegging the sunset of these tax cuts to something non-arbitrary, like a certain amount of GDP growth, or a lower level of unemployment. This would avoid the unproductive brinkmanship that Congress engages in over this issue — and could prevent our fragile recovery from being further slowed down.

I appreciate the sentiment behind this, but it's too technocratic to succeed. It also sets up some really bad incentives: if you really hate higher taxes, does this give you a motivation to oppose policies that would be good for the economy?

But something similar would be nearly as good: let all the Bush tax cuts expire, but phase them out. Maybe a third in 2014, a third in 2015, and a third in 2016. That would be good for the economy now, and good for deficit reduction in the future.

I know, I know: this isn't going to happen. I'm just looking for something to write about during the hours in which we continue to know nothing about how the election is going. You may now return to your previous TV-watching activities.

Deciphering Fox News

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 8:35 PM EST

Just reading wall posters here, but the talking heads on Fox are not sounding very energized tonight.... 

It's the Machines, Stupid

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 4:08 PM EST

Mark Thoma draws my attention today to a paper by Henry Siu and Nir Jaimovich that tries to explain why recent recessions have prominently featured jobless recoveries. They break down jobs into three categories: non-routine cognitive jobs, non-routine manual jobs, and routine jobs. What they show is two things:

  • Most of the job losses during the past three recessions have come from the ranks of occupations coded as routine.
  • And unlike previous recessions, these jobs don't come back during the subsequent recoveries. The chart below shows the permanence of these job losses in the aftermath of our last three recessions.

So why is this happening? Siu and Jaimovich conclude that it's the machines, stupid:

Automation and the adoption of computing technology is leading to the decline of middle-wage jobs of many stripes, both blue-collar jobs in production and maintenance occupations and white-collar jobs in office and administrative support. It is affecting both male- and female-dominated professions and it is happening broadly across industries — manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial services, and even public administration.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and better education can only make a small dent in it. I suspect that over the next several decades, this is going to be one of our most serious economic issues, but it's one that we'll mostly try to deny because the solution is so intractable. So instead we'll make up other explanations and continue to flail around. But like it or not, machines are going to get more and more competent over time, and they're going to perform more and more of the work. Eventually we'll have to face up to it.

UPDATE: A regular reader emails in a comment:

Have you ever watched "How It's Made"? The extent of factory automation, even in places you wouldn't expect, like food production, is mind-boggling. It's impossible to watch even one episode and come away wondering where the manufacturing jobs went. It almost doesn't matter if they went overseas — the bigger issue is that they don't require humans anymore. All that's left is for us to automate the factory automation factory and we'll be all done....

This comment, of course, would have been delivered to me by an actual human being 20 years ago.

In Which I Share My Voting Experience

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 3:13 PM EST

It appears to be something of a tradition for political bloggers to report on the state of their local polling station, so here's my dispatch from the front lines of my white, upper-middle-class neighborhood:

The weather was nice. I have a job that allows me to vote anytime I want, so I headed out at 10:58 am, which is conveniently during the midmorning lull. My polling place is about 200 yards from my house and I got there at 11:01 am. There was no line. It took two minutes to check in. Nobody asked for ID because California doesn't require it. The machine worked fine. It printed an audit trail that correctly captured my vote. I returned home at 11:09 am.

And that was that. Aside from the 200-yard thing, which obviously isn't possible universally, this is how voting should go for everyone.

The New Black Panthers Give Fox News an Early Christmas Gift

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 2:01 PM EST

Dave Weigel wonders if the New Black Panther Party will give Fox News an early Christmas present by showing up again this year at polling places in Philadelphia. The answer turns out to be yes:

The Panthers are so stupid that they deployed to the same site they hit in 2008: The 4th district of Philadelphia's 14th ward. Very few of the people who hyperventilate about this story have been to the polling place and check out its vote. I have. The precinct, located in a retirement home, gave 596 votes to Barack Obama in 2008. It gave 13 votes to John McCain. Four years earlier, it had given 24 votes to George W. Bush. It's a heavily black, Democratic area, which is why — four years after the first Fox freakout — no one has ever emerged to say he or she wanted to vote but was suppressed by the Panthers. And hell, in 2008, the Panthers had nightsticks. There's one guy now, armed with nothing.

Let's be serious about this. One month ago, a court struck down part of Pennsylvania's voter ID law. Voters in the state do not have to show ID, though poll workers may ask for it. Since then, the state has continued to run ads that tell voters to come to polls with ID — "SHOW IT" in large print, "if you have it in small print." It's likely that legitimate voters who lack multiple forms of ID have seen this, and assumed it'll be tougher to vote today.

But it's boring to talk about a bogus campaign to complicate the vote in the entire state. It's exciting to show a scary-looking black dude on TV, and imply to the Fox News viewer that another scary trooper — maybe a UN worker! — is laying in wait at his polling place.

It's all part of the Republican war on voters who might not vote for Republicans. You can read about it here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The 2012 Campaign May Have Been Small, But the Election Itself Will Be Very Big Indeed

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:27 PM EST

In Politico, John Harris and Jonathan Martin complain that although both sides tried to pretend the 2012 election was an apocalyptic choice between competing worldviews, in the end it turned out to be "small":

These two opposites in fact are closely connected. Yes, there are specific people to blame, and no better place to start than the top: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were co-conspirators in driving what they both claimed was the most important election of our lifetimes into cul-de-sacs of trivia and evasion. But it is clear that both men found themselves caught in a vortex of large forces that converged to make the election small.

The arguments were small....The playing field was small....Most of all, the leading actors were small — either content with their diminished stature or powerless to change it. Obama, who four years ago encouraged people to view him as an epic figure, riding a wave of history, this time encouraged people to view him in life-size terms, as a mortal figure who had done the best he could amid setbacks and disappointments.

There's a lot to this, but I think Harris and Martin miss the real reason for it: for all the sound and fury, there's a remarkable amount of consensus over big policies in America. The welfare state that Democrats have built over the past 80 years—Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, subsidized public education, welfare, and the minimum wage—is pretty much here to stay, with neither side able to change it except on the margins. Ditto for the regulatory state: OSHA, workers comp, environmental regulations, consumer-protection laws, and, most recently, Dodd-Frank. Social attitudes continue to loosen up slowly in some areas (gay rights, religiosity) and remain stable in others (guns, abortion). Most of the heavy lifting on civil rights—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, gender discrimination laws, the Violence Against Women Act, and ADA—was finished years ago, with little left on the national agenda aside from things like the precise boundaries of affirmative action. Conservatives have won some battles too. We've reached a rough consensus on taxes, arguing now only about whether the marginal rate on top earners should change by four percentage points, and as Benjamin Wittes argues persuasively today, for better or worse we've reached a rough consensus on national security issues too. Extinguishing the private sector labor movement was a big deal for Republicans over the past few decades, but that job is mostly finished.  

I'm not trying to downplay how important small changes can be, especially as they build up over time. Trench warfare may not be glamorous, but it makes a difference. And in some ways, the very lack of detail in the 2012 campaign has been refreshing: it made the campaign into a pure debate over broader views of the role of government without getting too caught up in all the niggling details.

But here's something else interesting: I'd say there are at least two very concrete areas where today's election really will make a big difference. And yet, neither candidate spent much time talking about them. The first is abortion, where Supreme Court nominees over the next four years have at least the potential of overturning Roe v. Wade. But while the "war on women" has been a Democratic talking point all year, it's never really become a major campaign topic.

And the second? Obamacare. This is the capstone of the Democratic welfare state, the final big-ticket program that's eluded liberals for nearly a century. In Joe Biden's memorable words, it's a big fucking deal. If Romney were elected along with a Republican Senate, he'd almost certainly be able to badly cripple Obamacare, even if he couldn't quite repeal it outright. If Obama wins and keeps the Senate in Democratic hands, it will become institutionalized. And like Social Security and other similar programs that started out small, it will grow over time until, eventually, America really does have universal healthcare.

But as with abortion, it simply hasn't been a big campaign issue. Romney issues pro forma applause lines about repealing Obamacare on Day 1, but that's about all. And Obama barely mentions it at all. For my money, this is by far the biggest issue of the campaign, and it's been nearly invisible.

So in a way, the 2012 campaign hasn't been small. Both sides may have made a strategic decision to fight on other grounds, but Obamacare, all by itself, is about as big as things get these days. Even if an elephant in the room is invisible, it's still an elephant.

The Story Behind Red States and Blue States

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 11:38 AM EST

Why are Republican states colored red and Democratic states colored blue? Answer: because Democratic states were colored blue in 2000, and the long recount that year seared the electoral map into everyone's memory. After that, the association became permanent. 

Fine. But why were Democrats blue in all the 2000 maps? After all, red is traditionally the color of lefty parties around the world, and before 2000 elections network maps had usually colored Democratic states red. Several years ago, one of my commenters provided the answer:

Since the advent of color TV, there has been a formula to avoid charges of giving any party an advantage by painting it a "better" color. Here is the formula: the color of the incumbent party alternates every 4 years.

I've never gotten ironclad confirmation of this rule, but it seems to be correct. The table on the right shows how this formula has applied since 1976, and it explains why Democrats had usually been colored red prior to the 2000 election: it's a coincidence. In the six elections prior to 2000 every Democrat but one (Dukakis in 1988) had been coded red, but that was just because of how the cycle of incumbency happened to work out during that period. If the formula had continued, the incumbent Republicans would have been blue in 2008, but by then it was too late. The color of the parties had entered American folklore and become permanent.

HOLD ON!: In the Smithsonian, Jodi Enda dives in deeper and calls my story a "myth." Map colors weren't monolithic among the networks, and she finds no evidence of any kind of rule for how the colors switched. Rather, in the early years of color mapping on TV they "changed back and forth from election to election and network to network in what appears, in hindsight, to be a flight of whimsy."

Californians Started the Tax Revolt 34 Years Ago. Will They End it Today?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 5:45 AM EST
California Gov. Jerry Brown, now and then

The great American tax revolt got its start in June 1978, when California voters passed Proposition 13, a ballot initiative that cut and capped property taxes and required a two-thirds vote to pass any future tax increases. Jerry Brown was governor back then, and initially he opposed Prop. 13. Once it passed, though, he became such a fervent apostle that four months later Howard Jarvis, the father of Prop. 13, was cutting campaign commercials for Brown's reelection bid. Today, at age 74, Brown is no longer the Gov. Moonbeam that Garry Trudeau famously dubbed him back in the '70s, but he is governor again. And guess what? In a Groundhog Day kind of way, Proposition 13 is back on the ballot again too.

Naturally, there's a backstory here. The Golden State has had a rocky past decade, starting with over-optimistic spending during the dotcom boom; red ink as far as the eye could see during the dotcom bust; and finally, in 2003, a special election that propelled movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governor's mansion. Schwarzenegger won largely because of a second, mini-tax revolt, this time over an increase in the vehicle license fee, which he promised to roll back. He kept his promise, immediately plunging California back into deficit, and then passed a revenue bond that papered things over for a couple of years but, in the long run, just made California's problems worse.

Still, for a couple of years toward the end of Schwarzenegger's second term, the state budget started looking a little better. But it was just a mirage. California's structural deficits had never really been addressed, and when the Great Recession hit in 2008 things went pear shaped fast. And while Republicans may be a fading force in California, they maintain just enough members in the Legislature to prevent any tax increases—thanks to Prop. 13's two-thirds requirement—something which has left Sacramento with no choice but to slash the budget brutally. In current dollars, California spent $3,100 per resident out of its general fund in 2007. Today that's down to $2,400. (Raw numbers here.)

Because of this, schools have suffered, universities have suffered, and, of course, the poor have suffered. Further cuts this year would cause even more devastation, so Brown is resorting, once again, to California's initiative process to fix things. Ironically, though, this time he's campaigning hard for Proposition 30, a measure that would temporarily increase income taxes on the rich and sales taxes on everyone. The money would mostly be earmarked for K-12 schools and community colleges. If it doesn't pass, automatic triggers in the 2013 budget will take effect, slashing $6 billion in planned spending.

So here's the question: Will California voters, who so famously started the tax revolt 34 years ago, agree to Brown's plan to bypass the two-thirds requirement they themselves put in place and raise their own taxes? If Prop. 30 passes, it would symbolically mark an end to the tax revolt, and for this reason it's attracted more than just the usual opposition from within California. It's also attracted huge amounts of opposition funding from outside the state. Huge and mysterious: An Arizona outfit called Americans for Responsible Leadership has committed $11 million to the fight against Prop. 30 (as well as the fight for Prop. 32, a union-busting measure), but has steadfastly refused to disclose where the money came from. Under a court order, they finally revealed the source of the money on Monday, but they still had the last laugh: The source they revealed was just another mysterious organization, and it's too late to force that organization to reveal the real source of the money. Andy Kroll has the whole story here.

So will Prop. 30 pass? It's on a knife edge. The most recent Field Poll, the gold standard in California polling, shows that all that outside money has had an effect. Support has dropped substantially over the past month, and now stands at 48 percent to 38 percent. A separate poll from PPP put Prop. 30's support at 48 percent to 44 percent. That may seem like a comfortable lead, but conventional wisdom says that once an initiative drops below 50 percent, it's in trouble. The undecided voters almost always end up voting No in large numbers.

So that's where we stand. Today, at the behest of the same governor who came to personify the start of the tax revolt in America, Californians will decide whether they've had enough. After watching school funding and basic service funding atrophy for over a decade, is it finally time to call off the tax revolt? In a few hours, we'll find out.

Final Election Forecasting Update - 5 November 2012

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 1:41 AM EST

Here it is: my final 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. Three of the four have moved a bit in Obama's direction since yesterday, and all four models continue to predict a convincing Obama victory. The average forecast is 312 electoral votes for Obama vs. 219 for Romney.

So that's that. On Tuesday, the most consequential election in the history of Western civilization, pitting a radical socialist revolutionary against a misogynist plutocratic reactionary, will finally be over (God willing). On Wednesday, the backbiting and sniping will begin. Then, after a long weekend to cool down, we'll all start prepping for the next most consequential election in the history of Western civilization, the one that will determine the character of these United States for decades to come. I can't wait.