Sunday, November 12, 2006

 

Washington Post misses the forest for the trees (still)

In today's Washington Post, Zach Goldfarb reviews the political staff's prognostication skills.  The article makes some good points, but raises serious doubts about their ability to analyze data.

In July, the [Post] political staff came up with a list of eight questions that would frame the campaign. Over the past four months, individual articles -- which remain online here -- looked at races where the bellwether questions were most vividly on display.

I give the Post credit for intellectual honesty.  Unfortunately, it appears they have trouble reconciling the data with their preconceived notions.  They also have trouble counting to eight, so maybe we shouldn't expect too much too soon.


 Here's the point they keep dancing around:  We have a mandate.  Unlike the "moral mandate" of 2004, this mandate for change is broad, but not deep.  If we deliver real change, we can make this durable.   Since this is Sunday, I will stick to clickable graphics.   This one is from The New York Times and shows the Senate victory adjusted for population.


Their list starts with BALLOT ISSUES

In 2004, Republicans tended to benefit from ballot proposals against same-sex marriage that revved the conservative base. This year, Democrats hoped to turn out their own partisans with initiatives to raise the minimum wage and promote stem cell research. The strategy did not hurt, but it's not clear how much it helped.
This raises an interesting strategic point to consider for 2008.  Ballot initiatives have traditionally not been a centerpiece of Democratic GOTV strategies.  Now that we are building the netroots and Dean is leading the charge with the 50 state strategy, this is something we seriously need to revisit.


Their next point is IRAQ

All year long, polls had registered voters' rising disaffection with the Iraq war and their doubts that it was contributing to U.S. security... Two-thirds of voters said the war was very or extremely important to them. They favored Democrats decisively.
Instead of noting the thumping Republicans took for their policy fiasco, the Post acts like voters only connect this issue to candidates who are veterans.  Of course, they failed to mention the fact that all the Iraq War vets were running as Democrats.  Then as a non sequitor they note, "In Connecticut, Rep. Christopher Shays (R) prevailed over Democrat Diane Farrell."   Gee, I guess the war wasn't much of an issue in Connecticut.   I wonder what the burning topic was in the primaries?    And what happened in Virginia?   I wonder if the Democrat running for the Senate seat there had any thoughts about the handling of this war?   Oh well, you won't find the answer in the Post.


They next tackle IMMIGRATION

Many Republicans thought for much of the year that they knew the key to winning close elections: anti-illegal-immigration appeals aimed at consolidating the conservative base and attracting independents upset about border security. But in virtually every competitive race, that strategy failed.


They hit that right, look at the map from USA today showing the regional house victories and it's clear Democrats flipped quite a few seats along the Mexican border in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  If you click on the map, you will also see that Democrats picked up House seats across the country.  That point will take on additional significance later.

 


This leads them to MONEY MATTERS

Perhaps the most confounding question for the GOP all year was why the economy wasn't lifting Republican candidates' fortunes...  By most measures, the economy was doing well, with low unemployment and a high stock market. Gasoline prices, which had caused Republicans such distress, had dropped considerably by Election Day.


One of the reasons we have a mandate is the looting of the Treasury.   We picked up Senate seats in states with low average incomes, moderate average incomes and generally affluent voters.  Voters are not thinking just about the price of gas today, tomorrow or last week.   Everyone knows these guys took a surplus and poured it into a money pit called Iraq.  Consequently, working wage earners haven't seen real raises and health care costs are killing them.  Middle class voters are watching college costs go through the roof and the dream of college for their kids disappear along with that.  Young wage earners can't afford to buy housing.  Even the affluent are getting edgy as they wait for interest rates to take off and erode their fixed income asset base.


They recognize the inevitable ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:

In 2002, President Bush was the weapon many Republican House and Senate candidates successfully used against their Democratic opponents. This time, Bush was featured prominently in close campaigns -- but almost exclusively in the ads of Democratic candidates using the president as a weapon against Republicans.
That they got right.  Although they never mention exactly why Dubya was such a liability.  It's almost as if voters were behaving irrationally and simply engaging in mean-spirited Bush Bashing.  Maybe the Post staff just wanted to avoid a laundry list of complaints and kept this section mercifully short.  


Next, they take a run at TOUGH TERRAIN:

In 1994, when the Republicans won control of Congress, they did so in large part by evicting Democrats from seats in the South, where the electorate had grown steadily more conservative. This year, the opposite phenomenon took place in the Northeast, where many once-safe Republicans representing Democratic-leaning districts discovered that the GOP label was radioactive.



It's true Pennsylvania is in the Northeast, but  that's not the only place Democrats had big wins.  I could be wrong, but I always thought Montana was in the West.  I could have sworn Lewis and Clark thought Missouri was the gateway to the West.  I know General Robert E. Lee would be mighty flummoxed to learn the Old Dominion was no longer in the South.  And when did the Ohio Valley get moved East?  Democrats won big turnovers in all those venues.



On the right are more results from the CNN site showing a couple comparisons between the Senate races in '04 and '06 from Ohio and Missouri. It is clear the map is turning blue in Midwestern states.


 


This brings us to the point they forgot to cover.  Although Democrats lost the senate race in Tennessee, I think it is a mistake to ignore the gains made there as well.  In fact, they look more substantial than the gains made in Virginia.  These CNN comparisons between the presidential race in '04 and the '06 Senate race shows just how much penetration Democrats have made deep in the South.

 

Although you can blame the drubbing in Florida on Katherine Harris, you can't ignore the fact she was the best the Republicans could field. Even with that, notice the blue along the panhandle, even in 2004. Northern Florida is very much a part of the South.  I have no doubt that Floridians looked to Louisiana and saw their future.  Global warming is not going to disappear as a problem in the next couple years.  One more hit like Katrina, and I think Mississippi and Alabama may be rethinking their loyalties as well.

 


They save the best for last and go after SCANDALS:

By the fall, it seemed that many voters were shrugging off the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and ethics was fading as an important election issue. That changed in September when the Mark Foley page scandal erupted, including allegations that the House GOP leadership had averted its gaze from Foley's advances toward young males. In exit polls, 74 percent of voters said corruption was very or extremely important in their decision.


I am sure that outrage over corruption, waste, and abuse were major reasons independent voters favored Democrats by a 3 to 2 margin over Republicans this time.  In 2004 they were about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, so this is a significant shift.  It's interesting the Post is silent on the independent voters.  Their vote is a significant piece of the new mandate.  Their contribution to that mandate is why I think we need to deliver concrete results quickly.  I don't think independent voters are going to wait another six years for Democrats to start fixing the mess Dubya and the Corrupt Bastards Club have left us.

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