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Polling Margins: The Myth of "Double-Digits"

There is a strange meme in the blogsphere—most recently made in comments here by Movie Guy—that Obama “should have a double-digit lead over McCain at this stage as has been the case with previous presidential primaries.” So I went searching for double-digit leads among two-person Presidential races in the past several elections.

August 2004 (Bush [I] v Kerry):

Not a double-digit lead among them. How about 2000?

Bush v Gore, per Gallup:

A severe outlier early, and another slight outlier (almost ten points, but not quite) later on, but still no sustained double-digit leads. Maybe 1996?

Clinton [I] v Dole, Gallup Poll Trends:

A-HA! There is it; the source of the belief that one should have “double-digit” leads. A popular, incumbent president (“longest peace-time economic expansion in history”) running for re-election against a man who doesn’t even seem to be trying hard. (Ask “Hideo Nomo of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”)

But, oops. It’s also not the whole story. The whole story for 1996 runs more like Clinton (I) v Dole and Perot:

Again, Clinton is a popular, incumbent President (all things Obama is not) running against a man who is increasingly making it clear he doesn’t want the job (and a man whose candidacy was widely seen as equivalent to a “protest vote” against, e.g., NAFTA). So it seems reasonable to assume that many of the “undecideds” were not going to break his way and were deciding which protest vote was more reasonable.

But MG may suggest that I am politically naive to suggest that all of the Undecideds would break away from Clinton, and he’s probably correct. But it similarly seems reasonable to assume that a notable majority would break that way—say, 75% of the undecideds.

So even a popular incumbent cannot sustain a double-digit lead (though the negatives would still, of course, leave him winning with a large plurality of the vote—which is what happened). And the only times we see a convincing double-digit lead is when a substantial third-party candidate is excluded from the polling, and one of the candidates is a popular Incumbent.

Don’t get me wrong; I agree with Paul Krugman (contra lerxst) that Obama’s campaign isn’t so appealing as it could and should be. But in a two-party race* with neither candidate being the Incumbent,** expectations of a sustained double-digit lead, even over a short period of time, are absurd.

*Pending evidence of a large groundswell for Bob Barr and One of Obama’s Classmates on the Libertarian line or a rally amongst pro-Prohibition forces in the face of the Amethyst Initiative.
**In name, at least.

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Andrew Samwick ponders The Ancestral Party

On days like this, I wonder if I’m still a Republican.

I gave up on the Party long ago; I gave up hope when a (very) distant relative wrote an op-ed for the NYT on why he would not support impeachment in 1998, and was attacked by the party for the next few years, before he chose not to run for re-election in 2004. But if this is really the platform of a Republican Presidential candidate:

1. Energy Independence.
2. Tax Reform.
3. Border Security.
4. Life.
5. Defending Marriage.

then I’m around to agreeing with Brad DeLong: Shut it down. See if you can build something sane.

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It’s All About the Governors

Roger Ailes notes that Tim Kaine (D-VA) is the frontrunner for Dem VP, while KathyG (whose post on Cass Sunstein is a must-read) notes that Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appears likely to be McCain’s choice, likely ensuring one ovation at the Minneapolis convention.

Hmm. The man who presides over his state being described as “the state where “a child is most likely to have a successful life (Education Week 2007)’” or the man who “vetoed a highway bill that would have provided funding to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure — including, yes, that Interstate 35W bridge” and may have lied about the status of the bridge in public.

Such difficult choices.

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Trying to Short Joe Biden

So the good news yesterday (h/t Felix) is that, even as he was voting to eviscerate the Fourth Amendment, Barack Obama urged a change to bankruptcy law. The devil is in the details (the “median cost” of a home in NY State won’t keep anyone living in their house in Westchester or even Rockland County, let alone PGLville), but it’s a nice start, as Elizabeth Warren notes:

Obama has history. He voted against the bankruptcy bill. He voted in favor of the amendments that would have eased the effects of the amendments. But his real history is deeper. He was a community organizer who saw first-hand the effects of aggressive lending. He was a state legislator who felt the impact of federal pre-emption on his ability to protect the citizens he represented.

…McCain also has a history. McCain has voted in favor of financial institutions since he first went to Washington. He voted over and over for the bankruptcy bill, and he voted against the amendments to give medical bankrupts a means test exemption, against a uniform minimim homestead for older Americans, against limiting recovery for lenders who violate Truth-in-Lending laws. After Katrina, McCain opposed an amendment to make procedures easier for victims of natual disasters. The list is long….

The deteriorating economy make bankruptcy a more urgent national issues. Bankruptcy and consumer finance are issues where the money and power is all on one side and the middle class families are on the other. It is also an area where both candidates have an on-the-record history. Senator Obama has now thrust bankruptcy issue into the national spotlight.

Now, my immediate reaction was to attempt to go short the possibility that Obsidian Wings-favorite Vice Presidential candidate, Joe Biden (D-BofA [nee MBNA]) would be chosen.* But I can’t find the contract on intrade, and the CNN “political market” just notes a drop of “the field” and HRC** with most of the support going to John Edwards (and some to Bill Richardson).***

So there probably isn’t a way to directly profit on the Good News from ObamaNation yesterday, but eliminating Joe Biden from the list of possible VP nominees is certainly a Public Good.

*If that does happen, after yesterday’s speech, I’m voting for McCain, since it will then be truly impossible to take anything Obama says seriously.

*Must be her FISA vote.

***The positive interpretation is that something like 5.5% of those in the CNN political market really believed that Biden would or should be the VP nominee. The negative interpretation would be that around 5.5% of those registered believed that Joe Biden would be a good VP choice in the first place.

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One in 300, or the Only one in Government?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong lists some of the Usual Suspects who are Not in the Line-up.

John McCain’s 300 economists who support his Jobs for America Plan (via Tyler Cowen, non-sociopath, who provides an appropriate context for the list) includes one person, an Ike Brannon, whose affiliation is listed as “Department of the Treasury” and who, per this site, is “Senior Advisor to the [Tax Policy] Assistant Secretary,” one Eric Solomon.

My initial suspicion was that this might be a violation of the Hatch Act. But that appears not to be necessarily true:

These federal and D.C. employees may-

* express opinions about candidates and issues
* contribute money to political organizations
* attend political fundraising functions
* attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
* join and be an active member of a political party or club
* sign nominating petitions
* campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
* make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
* distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
* hold office in political clubs or parties

So as long as Mr. Brannon didn’t sign the petition while “on duty [or] in a government office [or] using a government vehicle,” it appears he is clearly permitted to sign the petition.

Now, generally, these petitions are circulated through personal connections. So presumably someone knows Mr. Brannon and forwarded it to him at his personal e-mail address. And one would assume that Mr. Brannon, if he were enthusiastic about the petition, would forward it—in a manner not to violate the Hatch Act—to others, including co-workers.

And presumably those others would know that, so long as the contact was of a personal nature, they, too, could sign on to “support of John McCain’s Jobs for America economic plan.”

The silence from the rest of the Treasury Department is deafening.

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Not Painless, or "There’s no way I could tell you/What he meant to me"

UPDATE: NYT Obituary here. Some book cover images added.

Two years ago at Readercon, I found myself doing some hero-worship in the Green Room.

Friday, we had discovered that my piece on Jorge Luis Borges was the first of the appreciations of that year’s Memorial Guest of Honor. (I assume this was because of its length.) Saturday, Shira and I had interviewed living GoH Jim Morrow. Sunday afternoon was going to be for seeing old friends.

Sunday morning, I came out of a panel, and there was Tom Disch, sitting alone in the Green Room.*

So I got five minutes—maybe ten—of getting to bubble over about “The Cardinal Detoxes” and On Wings of Song and Black Alice and The Castle of Indolence.

And he asked about why I was there, and I mumbled something, and Shira pointed out that I had written reviews for The Washington Post—to this man who had been the best reason to read The Nation for much of my early adult life.

And I asked about the rumors that he had stopped writing due to depression over his partner’s death (possibly not that directly), and he said he was still writing, and a few week’s later I found that he did indeed have some works scheduled to come out. And I believed him.

But apparently, that stopped being true.

If I’m at all qualified to have the politics of an Angry Bear, On Wings of Song should get much of the credit. (The excesses are mine.)

Subtitle reference (YouTube link).

*We had seen him on Friday night, having a pleasant dinner with Pamela Zoline, but that’s not a conversation one interrupts to hero-worship, even if you’re not trying to ride herd over two children in a dark bar.

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Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest Gives the Lie to the "Hillary is destroying the party" meme

He’s more of an optimist than I am—but that isn’t difficult.

Then again, he is also well aware that, were Hillary to drop out today, it wouldn’t be all peaches and cream from now until after the nominations are in place.

People are saying that Hillary is “race-baiting” because she mentioned “blue-collar whites.” Save the racist accusations for what’s coming — because it surely IS coming….

It is the old way, and it worked for a long time, and it stopped working and the 50-state strategy is what we need now. But is isn’t racist and isn’t intended to divide us. Is going after “soccer moms” or “NASCAR dads” as a demographic voting block a sexist tactic? Yes and no, but it isn’t intended to divide. She is just saying that voting patterns show that she is bringing in more of certain groups — and confirming her unfortunate entrenchment in the old-style “big state” view.

Let’s talk about real racism. Look at what has already started from the right. We already have seen them using “boy” and “darkest Africa.” As November approaches you will be hearing about “our women.” There will be stuff about how Obama wants the While House so he can lure in white wives of important Senators, etc. There will be a lot of “us” vs “them.” And much, much worse. Believe me, much, MUCH worse. THAT is when you want to talk about people using racism as a campaign tactic. And when that happens you really don’t want the right saying “well that’s what you said about Hillary, too.” [boldface and italics his]

As I noted at Thomas Palley’s blog a few days ago, “If Obama can’t take punches from the HRC campaign, he’s got no chance of doing so against the professionals of Ari Fleis[c]her and the RNC.” And while many appear to believe that the Dems could run anyone with a personality this side of Harry Reid after eight years of Bush-league rule, it’s a long way to November. And the more Hillary-punches Obama can take, the better off he’ll be when the real goons, not just Rocky Balboa, start swinging.

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