Patrick Ruffini's blog

Reapportionment: Policy Matters

Christmas has come a few days early this year in the form of the decennial data dump from the U.S. Census Bureau that kicks off the redistricting scramble. The reapportionment numbers were not only hugely consequential for the makeup of the next Congress and the durability of the Republican majority, but even a cursory look at the state-by-state numbers one sees the clearest possible vindication of conservative ideas at the state level. Dare I say, this week's numbers were the most ringing endorsement of the Republican governing model since Rudy Giuliani towered over the vested interests in New York City. Not only did the South and West win -- which liberals will dismiss as a function of weather -- but low tax states consistently beat high tax states. Not only did conservative states beat liberal states, most tellingly, the winners were almost to a man conservatively governed. 

Consider this striking fact unearthed by political strategist (and former Giuliani adviser) Ken Kurson, posted on Facebook: 

    Avg tax rate in states gaining a Congressional seat: 2.8%
    Avg tax rate in states losing a Congressional seat: 6.05%
    People vote with their feet.

This finding is relevant to top marginal tax rates, which unlike property or sales taxes more prevalent in redder states punish creation rather than consumption, but the basic finding runs deep throughout the numbers. The big population winners did not just happen to red states with nice weather. They also had a deeply embedded Republican governing model. Consider who governed in the big population-gaining states this year. 

    Texas +4 (10 years of Republican governors, 0 Democrat)
    Florida +2 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    Nevada +1 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    Utah +1 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    South Carolina +1 (8 Republican, 2 Democrat)
    Georgia +1 (8 Republican, 2 Democrat)
    Arizona +1 (2 Republican, 8 Democrat)
    Washington +1 (0 Republican, 10 Democrat)

Collectively, that's 58 years of Republican governance to 22 years of Democratic governance in the states gaining Congressional seats. And Washington State's impressive record -- alone among true blue states -- likely had more to do with the little matter that it lacks an income tax, and an initiative this year to impose one was beat back by 2-to-1. 

More than that, the leadership of these growing states has not only been Republican, but very much conservative: Rick Perry (whose approach to luring jobs from high-tax states is methodical and focused like a predator stalking his prey), Jeb Bush, Mark Sanford, and Sonny Perdue. 

Other gems abound in these numbers, providing us an acid test on the difference between good and bad policy. 

Michigan's prevailing wage union economy has wreaked more devastation than Hurricane Katrina did to Louisiana. Michigan was alone among the states to lose population, losing 0.6% of it. Louisiana (which had to deal with the destruction and relocation of major portions of its biggest city in this decade) gained 1.4%. 

The Northeast continues to bleed, especially its dying, secondary metros. New York state, which absurdly tried to levy an iPod tax under the hapless Gov. David Paterson, limped along with 2.1% growth (the national average was 10%). We don't have county numbers yet, but we can infer that the New York City area, and especially the suburbs, were the bulwark of any growth. Both New Jersey and Connecticut, which are roughly half New York City suburbs, outperformed the entire region (4.5% and 4.9%, respectively, to the Northeast average of 3.2%). This shows us that there is still a creative class and professional allure to major metropolitan areas that can partially counteract high taxation. But what happens to the remnant, secondary metropolitan areas out of reach from New York City or Boston? There, you have no creative class and sky-high taxes forced upon them by liberal city-dwellers. The bottom line: Goodbye Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. A similar dynamic is at play in New England. High-tax, secondary metro Rhode Island performed worst (at anemic 0.4% growth) while the Boston bedroom communities of income-tax free New Hampshire lifted it to a region-leading 6.5% growth rate. The Granite State is like a miniature version of Texas up north: increasingly metropolitan and lightly taxed. 

The Midwest is also hurting, but good policy saves the day. The Midwest fared only slightly better than the Northeast at 3.9% vs. 3.2% growth, but here one begins to see the difference policy makes. The damage here was done by both Democrats and weak sister Republicans. Michigan, which stubbornly refused to change under eight years of Jennifer Granholm, has the nation's worst economy and population growth. (Let us hope, for the sake of the survival of that state, that Governor Rick Snyder and his Republican majorities in the House and Senate can deliver a Right-to-Work law.) Ohio has the second worst, under the consecutive administrations of the corrupt, tax-raising Bob Taft (a Republican) and Ted Strickland (a Democrat). Like Snyder, John Kasich has the opportunity to emerge as a hero of the recovery. But aside from tiny South Dakota, the state in the region with the best population growth at 7.8% -- 4 points higher than neighboring Iowa and 2 points higher than neighboring Wisconsin, was Minnesota, where Tim Pawlenty held the line on taxes and spending for two solid terms. (Disclaimer: I help with Gov. Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC.) Likewise, there is no real reason that industrial Indiana should have performed any better than neighboring Illinois or Ohio other than its distinctively Republican orientation and the budget-cutting leadership of Gov. Mitch Daniels. Illinois, the state whose political leadership this decade consisted of Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama, turned in a mediocre growth rate of 3.3%, lower than all of its neighbors. 

For the First Time, the South Leads the Nation in Growth. Past Censuses showed the nation's growth tilted West. For the first time, the South took the crown this time, with an overall growth rate of 14.3% to the West's 13.9%. That's a turnaround from 2000, when the West led with 19.7% growth to the South's 17.3%. It's also perhaps a sign of the waning power of immigration as a driver of that growth (it tilts west, though heavily Latino Texas is considered part of the South). In many ways, this past growth was also because the West was the only truly "new" and underpopulated region for the better part of the last century. The 2010 Census shows the trend is definitely waning. The only state with a truly torrid growth rate was Nevada, at +35% -- but it was 66% (!) in the 1990s. The filling out of the interior and mountain West is also slowing. +24% and +21% growth in Utah and Idaho respectively show that it's not just about good weather, but those numbers represent declines of about 15 to 20 points from '90s growth rates. 

The Rise of Texas and the Decline of California. The blaring headline from the 2010 Census is, of course, Texas picking up 4 Congressional seats, landing at 38 total electoral votes. The last time a non-California state had this many was New York in the 1980s. At the same time, California leveled out at 55 electoral votes, the first time since the 1920 census that they haven't gained seats. Joel Kotkin has an excellent read on the California-Texas dynamic, stoked by Rick Perry who boasts of "hunting" for jobs every time he visits the Golden State. 

Texas's 20.6% growth off an already strong base shows its continued promise. California's 10% growth was the weakest in the West save for Montana (9.7%), showing again that even with its favorable geographic positioning, government for the public employee unions, by the public employee unions bleeds jobs and natives. Both states are bouyed by high immigration, much of it illegal (with Texas seemingly avoiding the social friction that characterizes the trend in California and Arizona). While Democrats wax hopeful that long-term demographic trends will ultimately save them (Democrats have been waiting in vain for a blue Texas since the days of Ann Richards), but they forget that many of these are nonvoters (hence the enduring push for amnesty). In California's case, counting illegal immigrants serves to prop up the state's Democratic electoral college block (without really changing the internal electoral dynamics of the state, in terms of new voters added to the rolls), while in Texas it helps add a few more Republican electors. The net effect of immigration is thus a wash in terms of national elections. 

The outflow from California can also be seen in the continued phenomenal growth of neighboring Nevada and Arizona. One telling story is that of Zappos, which moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Las Vegas this decade because the lack of a real middle class in the Bay Area made it difficult to find call center employees. 

The Curious Case of New Mexico. Here's another state where bad policy may be making a difference: New Mexico. Like its neighbors on the border, the state feels the impact of immigration. Yet its growth is a respectable but less than torrid 13.2%, almost half of Arizona's and a full seven points below Texas. Only Colorado's 16.9% comes close. Politically, New Mexico has been seen as a haven for corruption, is heavily dependent on government employers (the national labs), and has been ruled by Democrats including Bill Richardson. If there is any newly elected governor who's well positioned to make a difference with fiscally sound policies, it's Susana Martinez. 

New York Nearly Fades to 4th Place. If there's a cautionary tale California should heed, it's New York. 2010 was the year California topped out its power and influence on the national stage, and may face an actual decline in Congressional representation in years to come. New York has been in population free fall for some time now. Once the Empire State in both name and fact, Florida is now within 500,000 residents of overtaking it. New York's decline from 1st to 4th seems inevitable. 

The Natural Majority

In thinking about what to write after a long election season hiatus, I honestly just thought of completely reposting this piece from back in May, which built upon an earlier case I laid out for a ginormous Republican seat gain by making the case that if you simply assigned House seats to their Cook PVI winner, the result would be a sizeable GOP majority. 

How big? The seat breakdown I had for a perfectly politically balanced House of Representatives was 239 Republicans to 196 Democrats. 

Right now, we sit at 239 and we'll end up in the 242-243 range. 

In an odd way, I think the Tea Party surge has ended up bringing Washington back to the true political center of the country, but not yet fully to the right. The obstacles Republicans faced in moving the needle in their House numbers -- entrenched Blue Dog incumbents like Ike Skelton, John Spratt, Chet Edwards, and Gene Taylor -- were moved away last night. These are not "surge" seats that will be surrendered at the next election, but now likely Republican for life -- and ones we didn't have during Republican control of the House from 1994 to 2006. I tweeted out a few possible remaining targets for 2012 -- Heath Shuler for one, Ben Chandler for another -- but in truth I was having trouble coming up with that many because the Blue Dog hit list was exhausted so completely. 

Meanwhile, we generated a 63 seat wave without much in the way of gains in deep blue areas. The second act to the Scott Brown miracle didn't happen as New England stayed staunchly blue with the exception of New Hampshire. That's unfortunate from a storytelling perspective, but it also means we defend our newfound majority from much more solid ground than either the Democrats from 2006 onwards or Republicans in the dozen years after the 1994 revolution. 

The atmosphere in Washington today is also much more muted than it was after '94. Check out this remarkable clip of Gingrich right after the '94 vote poking his finger in the eye of the White House, claiming a mandate and saying "We are revolutionaries." I remember all that, but it sounded so out of place in today's context given all the modest rhetoric about a "second chance." 

This election was also a direct repudiation of a leader elected under Messianic pretexts. It was only a matter of time before the arrogance of it all -- the Hope stuff, the "We are the change we've been waiting for," the pretentiousness of the sunrise "O" -- generated an equal and opposite reaction (kind of like all of you who love to hate the Yankees). With Republican enthusiasm in the toilet the last two cycles, their very legitimacy as a political opposition spit on by the media, Republican voters I talked to yesterday took enormous satisfaction in seizing upon Obama's political weakness as they cheerfully showed up to vote. 

The act of yelling "realignment" after an election is getting tired and farcical after an unprecedented third wave in a row, so I'll resist doing it here. In the House, there was a tactical realignment, as seats Democrats held for personal reasons now give way to natural conservative Republican-held strongholds we'll hold for a long time. Attitudinally, the pendulum simply swung from the far left to the center. The President will be a Democrat, the Senate will be narrowly Democratic, and the House Republican, and the overall result will be all sides canceling each other out, e.g. centrism.

While not conservative per se, it is in one important sense: very little will get done. And that's a good thing. D.C. types assume gridlock is a dirty word, but voters acted very deliberately to hit the breaks on the Democratic train that ramrodded Obamacare. A pause in the frenetic activity of the last two years in Washington, and the fact of the House as a de-facto veto on spending levels, means a profoundly conservative outcome, if not in policy, than in the nature and speed and pace of activity coming out of the nation's capital. 

The Irrelevance of the "Online Base"

Micah Sifry's response to my post (and Mindy's) on the size of the right online brings forth a basic assumption I'm not so sure is apt anymore -- that there is an "online base" that's distinct from the base offline, and from there, to the electorate at large? A few years ago, I know this was the case. Now, I'm not so sure. 

A few years ago, the mark of an online activist was pretty clear: participation in blogs -- as either a blogger or commenter, or membership in (likely multiple) political email lists and a history of donating and volunteering in response to online appeals. 

The rise of social media and the growing ubiquity of the Web as an entry point for campaigns makes the 'net a singular platform for activism -- online or offline. 

Unsatisfied by the political success of the Tea Party movement more broadly, Micah is greatly interested in what its size is, and specifically, what its size is online

 

Again, I'm sorry, but if you're going to tout the Tea Party movement as the embodiment of a wonderful flowering of grassroots activism on the Right, as both Mindy and Patrick rightfully do, you've got to expect that inquiring minds are going to want to know, well, how big is it? How many people are active in it? And you can't wave your hand and say, well, there are too many groups and none of them really are the hub and therefore it's impossible to say how big. Let's look at the metrics.

In 2008, roughly 13 million people joined Barack Obama's email list. That's also the size of his Facebook fan base today, roughly double its size since the election (a counterpoint, Micah, says, to the right-is-dominating-online argument -- though I'd say it's more indicative of Facebook's growth since Palin -- and others' -- numbers have also at least doubled). 

The number 13 million -- roughly 20 percent of the total votes Obama received -- suggests something that transcends activism as we normally understand it, and specifically online activism (however you define that to be different than regular activism). If all you need to do is hit the "Like" button, is it activism? Or is it something more akin to casting a vote, something roughly 130 million people did in the last election? That shows the "online activism" picture getting muddled. You don't need to be an activist, or even terribly savvy politically or technologically, to make your voice heard online nowadays. The tools have gotten so mainstream, and so easy, that the line between an activist and a supporter is blurring. 

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we're seeing many candidates whose online fundraising now exceeds their direct mail fundraising. Are these two groups separate and distinct? Has online permanently enlarged the activist pool? Idealistically, we'd like to say yes. But practically speaking, it's probably mostly a matter of grabbing the low-hanging fruit from the offline space who simply find it more convenient to engage online. I would contend that these are no longer two radically different groups of individuals, but the larger base of conservative activists is migrating online. In this way, I don't think you can separate broader political success and enthusiasm from online activism in the way Micah does. 

In 2004, it was easy to have a debate about online activism in a silo. Blogs were relatively small, frequented by at most hundreds of thousands of Americans, and experienced by more only when the media deigned to talk about them. Political blogs were fragmented and difficult to find, not like leaving a stray political comment on someone's Wall or clicking "Like" on a politician because you happen to be on Facebook for two hours a day anyway. 

The nature and scope of online activism has changed dramatically since then, but the outlook of some techno-political pundits who cite Daily Kos uniques as the be-all, end-all of activism has not. We're now at a point where every significant change or insurgent movement in either party is dependent primarily on the mainstream Internet -- Facebook, Twitter, and participation in websites and e-mail lists seeded by offline megaphones like Fox News, MSNBC, and talk radio. The narrowcasting of blogs seems less relevant now, because there are much bigger media and technology players driving people online. This is popularizing online activism and making it indistinguishable from regular activism. 

Sure, there are still plenty of groups that depend primarily on direct mail for their fundraising, but few new groups. Judging from what I've seen this cycle, the Big Shift to online is happening. And just like the early adopter disillusionment that's gripped tools like Twitter and Facebook now that Lady Gaga has taken her place at the head of the table, we're finding that the political Internet isn't just for tech geeks anymore. Lots of regular folks are joining the party. 

 

Why the Right is Winning Online in 2010

Mindy Finn has done a public service in responding to this post by the Personal Democracy Forum's Micah Sifry belittling the online success of the Right and the Tea Party movement in 2010. 

Sifry is someone I consider a friend and genuine believer in the cause of digital democracy whatever our political differences, but he's wrong here. It was PDF, and their TechPresident blog (to which I've contributed) that obsessed over the online gap between Democrats and Republicans in 2008, even popularizing hour-by-hour charts of Facebook fans and Twitter followers to document the extent of Obama's lead over every Republican candidate. At the time, there wasn't much to argue with in these numbers. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and Republicans have a opened up a lead in voter enthusiasm (which I would argue is inextricably tied to online activism) in 2010, Sifry tries to deny its significance by shifting the debate back to old-style political blog readership or creating straw men by citing inflated membership figures by one of a host of groups claiming leadership of the largely leaderless Tea Party movement. 

As someone who deals directly in Republican political activism and often watches confirmation emails flood my inbox as online money for candidate clients pours in, I don't there's any arguing that the right has at least reached parity with the left and outmatched it in important ways. And as someone who was doing this long before 2010, I can say this very definitely wasn't the case a few years ago. 

The Scott Brown phenomenon is not thought of as an exclusively online phenomenon, but the means by which it happened was largely online: $12 million -- more than 90% of the funds raised by the campaign -- coming in online in 18 days. 

Show me a Democratic Senate candidate in any race who raised that amount in that short of a time. Not Ned Lamont. Not Jim Webb. Not Bill Halter. Though there was a lot to be said for the digital smarts on that campaign, everyone knows that when something like this happens, it's almost purely a function of the collective strength of a party's grassroots rather than anything about the candidate or the campaign. When conservatives resolved themselves to beat Bart Stupak in the 24 hours after his health care vote, his Republican challenger Dr. Dan Benishek didn't even have a website, so they flooded his PayPal account. 

Had opportunities like these presented themselves in 2005 and 2006, I'm not sure that conservatives could have capitalized in the same way. Online fundraising surges on behalf of Republican candidates back then were unheard of, aside from the occasional $10K fundraising drive on RedState or some other blog. Meanwhile, progressive blog triumphalism was its peak. The netroots was raising serious money into highly symbolic special elections, starting with $80K for Ben Chandler in Kentucky back in 2003 and an eye-popping $500K for Paul Hackett in the OH-2 special in 2005. There was a legitimate infrastructure gap that should have had Republicans worried. And in the end, the tsunami finally crashed ashore in 2008. 

In 2010, Republicans have no reason to worry that their base won't be there for them online. Both Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell raised more than $1 million online in the 24 hours after their primary wins. Scott Brown was all of this on steroids. Republicans in every competitive special election have had no problem raising hundreds of thousands of dollars online apiece. And in perhaps the closest thing we have to a head-to-head match up, Joe Wilson caught up and outraised his Democratic challenger in the wake of a massive online mobilization after his "You lie" comment a year ago. 

Meanwhile, the netroots oomph just isn't there anymore. They're not winning primaries at the same rate as the Tea Party. The race they were most invested in, Halter vs. Lincoln, turned into a donnybrook for the movement, like Lieberman vs. Lamont before it. I had to check if there was still a successor to the "netroots candidates" on ActBlue anymore, and there is. It's called Orange to Blue and it's raised $376,000 for a handful of candidates, a far cry from the $2.4 million raised in 2008 and the more than $1.5 million raised by the Netroots Candidates list in 2006. The lack of many discernible Democratic opportunities this year has also meant that they just don't seem to be trying as hard. Most every post I read on the home page of Daily Kos in 2006 had the ubiquitous orange "Donate" and "Volunteer" buttons. No more. 

The lesson: online enthusiasm can't be separated from offline momentum. There is nothing intrinsic about the left or the right that makes one side or the other better online. The left won online in 2008 because it was winning offline. The right is winning online in 2010 because it's winning offline.

 

The facts don't fit the narrative that the netroots has carefully cultivated about why it succeeded early on. This sentiment is best expressed by Andrew Rasiej, Sifry's partner at TechPresident, who said at the height of the left's online momentum in 2007: 

“In a thumbnail way, Republicans have spent the last 30 years building a massive top-down communications infrastructure,” said Andrew Rasiej, founder of techPresident, a group blog that follows how technology is being utilized in the 2008 race.  “The culture of the Internet is completely foreign to them,” he added. “The Internet is all about bottom-up.” 

Of course, this caricature of conservatives as mindless rubes who do as they're told has been shown up by the massive revolt against the Republican establishment that's had real world electoral consequences in virtually every major primary this year. I think we can consign this particular left-wing conceit to the dustbin of history. 

Perhaps, the left will do better when they have something to believe in again. But for right now, I think you have to hand this round to the Republicans. 

 

The Sunlight Foundation Misses the Point

I'll begin this post as I increasingly find myself doing, with a tweet

I wonder if folks at the @sunfoundation realize they’re creating a system where only billionaires can get elected

That's the question I posed to the Sunlight Foundation, whose good work on government transparency is marred by their vocal support for draconian campaign finance regulations. It's a fair question in light of self-funders steamrolling "career politicians" / "lifelong public servants" (pick your poison) in recent primaries.

Their response on their blog yesterday was a nonsequitur on the DISCLOSE Act. No, my specific beef is not with the DISCLOSE Act but the entire regime put in place the original "campaign finance reform" of FECA more than 30 years ago, and its subsequent bastardization that has given us the kind of influence peddling that the Sunlight Foundation now rails against. 

It is this regime of strict limits -- $2,400 per individual to a campaign -- that creates a massive de-facto advantage for self-funders who can pour in anything they want. 

In the past, I've noted the weak record of self-funded candidates actually getting elected. And I've noted, in general terms, the drawbacks of said candidates. The Sunlight Foundation's own analysis shows a low, but rising, success rate for self-funders -- from 9.4% getting elected in 2002 to 21.5% in 2008. 

But 2010 by any measure looks to be a watershed year for self-funders. Just look at Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California, Rick Synder in Michigan, Bill Haslam in Tennessee, possibly Rick Scott and Jeff Greene in Florida, maybe Mark Dayton in Minnesota, and in today's Connecticut primary, quite possibly three self-funded nominees for the top two statewide offices: Linda McMahon, Ned Lamont, and Tom Foley. 

There's no doubt that this trend is helped along by public disgust at the current Congress and Administration, and no contesting the fact that the politicians seem to have made such a hash of things that it seems like political novices can do no worse. William F. Buckley's dictum that he'd rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book remains as relevant today as ever. And it's not to say that primaries won by self-funders can't produce a good result (Synder and Haslam -- a current mayor -- seem to be good examples). 

But for each Rick Synder, there are other candidates with baggage so great that they wouldn't survive a primary in an instant if they had to raise it $2,400 at a time. Think Linda McMahon, the WWE, and steroids, or virtual nobody Jeff Greene who profited off the very credit default swaps that are at the heart of Florida's real estate collapse. 

Though the political winds might be at their back, self-funders have a massive structural advantage: in the context of a campaign, they are the only ones who can exercise their Constitutional rights under Buckley v. Valeo with unlimited contributions to a campaign. (There is surely an equal protection case in there somewhere, right?) 

The situation is made worse in states that are models for strict campaign finance regulations and public financing: Florida and Connecticut. In Florida, you can only give $500 a pop to a statewide candidate, but outside political entities who don't disclose their donors openly coordinate with cash-strapped campaigns. In the realm of the truly bizarre, the state party can also subsidize any campaign's infrastructure costs to get around these limits. Connecticut also has public financing and contribution limits, and we may well get an all-self-funder race for Governor today. 

Let's look, by contrast, at states like Texas and Pennsylvania, which don't have any contribution limits in statewide elections. Is there a serious case to be made that their system is worse, or more corrupt, than Florida's -- where money is funneled through shadowy outside groups precisely because the ambit of disclosed campaign activity is so small? 

In Texas, all major candidates have an opportunity to fund their campaigns at a level appropriate to the modern campaign, thus making the cost of entry for self-funders very high. That doesn't mean they don't try, but they must at least compete on a level playing field because their opponents have the theoretical ability to draw unlimited dollars from elsewhere. 

Which gets us back to what the Sunlight Foundation wants to talk about: the DISCLOSE Act. If we actually had a sane campaign finance system, there would have been no need for the Citizens United decision, because this activity would be happening in a fully open and disclosed fashion under federal campaign laws. It is only under a regime of strict limits that clever tricks that hide where money is really coming from begin to take root. PACs, soft money, 527s and the widespread use of 501(c)4's for political activity are all functions of campaign finance "reform." 

Paradoxically, it is only when money becomes a scarce resource in a campaign that where it comes from matters most. I for one would much rather have a system where an individual can give a candidate $100,000, fully disclosed, rather than the one we have now where members of Congress have to grovel before industry PAC representatives for 20 measly $5,000 checks. 

If there are reform-based objections to this, let's hear them. And let's also hear an answer to threshold question: how are things in Austin, Texas or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania worse today than in Washington, D.C.? 

Another R2K Smoking Gun: Bargain Basement Pricing

In my previous post on Kos and Research 2000 I noted how weird it was that Kos could afford to commission dozens of campaign polls given that by (his own admission) he runs a low seven-figure operation and the polls are likely far from his main traffic driver -- though I'm sure they don't hurt eyeballs-wise.  

I put this question to a pollster, who said R2K's claimed methodology and the likely cost of doing such polls legitimately raised immediate red flags. The pollster pointed me to this massive, 2000-person survey limited to Republicans back from January, commenting thusly: 

Take, for instance, their large January 2010 survey aimed at proving Republicans were all kooks.  They did a sample of about 2000 Republicans - a totally absurd sample size, most pollsters wouldn't in good conscience have a client pursue a survey of that size unless they had microtargeting aims and really needed a lot of subsample detail.  Unless you really, really want a big sample for the smaller cells (say, you want 100 interviews from female Hispanic Republicans age 18-34) there's no reason to do a survey of that size.  1000 interviews will do for a national. Sometimes we go up to 1250 with our bigger clients who really need that level of detail on a few key subsamples.  The difference in margin of error from 1000 (+/- 3.1%) and 2000 (about +/- 2%) is not a huge deal, not worth spending 2x as much on a poll.

Now, even weirder, it is just of Republicans, AND it wasn't done from a listed sample.  When you want to do a survey of, say, primary voters in a statewide, a listed/voter file sample is a totally acceptable practice because the alternative is unbelievably costly.  Think about it - not only did they call 2000 people, but they randomly dialed people, and turned away anyone who didn't identify as a Republican.  This will crush your incidence rate (meaning the number of folks who pick up the phone who are eligible to take the survey) and send costs through the roof.  We're talking at least tripling the costs.  

A survey of the length of that January 2010 survey, about 25 short-ish questions, plus a handful of demographics, is probably about a 10 minute questionnaire (I'm just eyeballing it and assuming an introductory statement and guessing on the # of demos asked, I could be off by a few minutes).  Fielding a 10 minute questionnaire to 1000 registered voters is going to run you in the $25-30 range.  Fielding a 10 minute questionnaire to 2000 voters? Probably 45-55.  But with the crazy drop in incidence caused by the Republican screener?  That survey could not have been done for less than six figures.  Period.  

Remember now that Research 2000 never claimed to be a robo-polling outfit. They claimed they did live interviews. And most polls are of likely voters, not registered voters. More screening means more cost. As far as what R2K claimed was its methodology, we're pretty much talking the Cadillac in terms of what the polls should cost. 

So, the question is did Kos really pay high five-figures, or low-six figures, for a single poll to drive eyeballs to one or two blog posts to prove Republicans are nuts? Huh?

I'm guessing no. I'm guessing R2K sold it to him for far less, say $10,000? And anyone with a rudimentary understanding of polling would have known you can't do a poll like this for that amount of money. So the question now is what this says about what Kos should have known about this. Is he so rich he can drop 100K on a single poll to drive a single day's news cycle -- something not even the major networks would do? Is he simply gullible? Or was he negligent in not checking out what what I can only guess were R2K's absurd price quotes compared to live operator pollsters? 

It wasn't just (relatively) deep-pocketed new media sources like Daily Kos who were spending money on Research 2000 polls. R2K did polling for state-level liberal blogs like Blue Mass Group in the run up to the Massachusetts special election. On January 14, R2K produced a poll showing Coakley with an 8-point lead (while other polls were showing Brown pulling ahead), and in touting the "good" news, Blue Mass Group proudly noted that "Research 2000 does live interviews, unlike robo-pollsters Rasmussen and PPP." My polling source had this response: 

A simple ballot test and a handful of demographics wouldn't be very long.  But even if that was only a 4 minute survey, you're still talking at least at least 6-8 grand for the raw interviewing costs without any additional markup. 

Did a Massachusetts progressive blog pay more than $6,000 for a top-of-the-line survey when maybe a half dozen other pollsters were polling the race by that point? Really? This begs the question of what Blue Mass Group really paid. And what did Kos really pay? And if the numbers are within what seems like their modest budgets (by mainstream media standards), it should have raised red flags if they did any shopping around for other pollsters. 

The Kos-R2K Affair

Daily Kos has sued Research 2000, its former pollster, for fraud. On the surface, the allegations seem a lot like the case Nate Silver made against Strategic Vision. In essence, when you're making up the numbers, odd biases and consistencies tend to creep in. You tend to favor certain numbers over others. The crosstabs, even on ridiculously small sub-samples, look too "clean." The report detailing the allegations is here

The one R2K poll on a race that I was working that now seems to make perfect "sense" in light of this new information is the poll of the California Senate race two and a half weeks before the primary that showed Tom Campbell building a 15 point lead in the GOP primary while polling on adjacent field dates showed Carly Fiorina building a 20 point lead. I recall thinking that if there had genuinely been 35 points of movement in 48 hours (absent some major cataclysmic event, which there hadn't been), that'd be virtually unprecedented in the history of polling. If one were to make up a poll lead, a 15 point Campbell lead made sense if one looked at the past movement in the polls, but not in terms of what was actually happening on the ground at that point. It all makes a lot more sense now. 

A lot of folks are trying to point to the root causes of this seeming debacle (including slamming robo-polls, which I think is off-base given the accuracy of outfits like SurveyUSA and PPP) but it will be interesting to see what the coming lawsuit(s) reveal about the relationship between Daily Kos and R2K. R2K was around prior to Daily Kos, and my vague recollection is that there was nothing out of line about its polling prior to its Kos contract. I could be wrong, but their polls seemed to play it up the middle. When an R2K poll came out in a previous election year, I didn't automatically assume a Democratic skew like I would a CBS/New York Times poll or a Newsweek poll. Yet the moment they signed up with Kos, all their results seemed to skew towards Obama and Congressional Democrats, starting with their 2008 Presidential tracking poll. Their 2010 polling was if anything worse, skewing several points toward Democratic Senate candidates, though their numbers in primaries seemed right, at least until the end when they disintegrated upon close contact with actual results. 

At some point when I raised this previously, it was mentioned that R2K was simply assuming a turnout model closer to Obama 2008. If so, who would be pushing them to do that? R2K? Or Kos?

Did Markos tell R2K to produce fraudulent polls showing Democrats up? Clearly not. Could R2K have simply been too eager to please their client, producing skewed results and making stuff up to boot? That seems more likely. Either way, R2K's newfound pro-Democratic skew had the effect of skewing the polling averages in a way that even Strategic Vision (which performed "better" on 538's Pollster Ratings) didn't. 

Another question to me is the volume of polling that R2K produced for Kos. I have a hard time finding a pollster who was this prolific for an individual client as R2K was for Kos. SurveyUSA has been equally if not more prolific in past cycles -- though not so much this one -- but their clients are different all over the country, usually local TV affiliates. Likewise, pollsters like PPP (D), another highly regarded automated polling operation, will release polling as a promotional vehicle for themselves -- and will potentially pay for it by picking up political clients, or selling questions on a survey otherwise deemed for public release. 

The bottom line is that polling, even automated polling, is expensive, and especially at the volumes R2K and Kos were doing. It's hard for me to believe that Kos's polling bills wouldn't have run into the deep six figures, which seems like an awfully big chunk of his $1 million (give or take) in revenue. I'm not the expert here, but it seems to me that more deep-pocketed media organizations haven't commissioned nearly this much polling (national networks release like, what, once a month?). Perhaps the unit cost was getting to be too low, and R2K's margins were getting squeezed by their arrangement with Kos, so they simply made it up. Either way, the damage to the credibility of the polling industry and the polling's effect on conventional wisdom, was fait accompli. 

UPDATE: Research 2000 claimed they did live interviews, and were not robo-polling. Live interviews are naturally more expensive. Which means they must have pitched Kos on a ridiculously low cost per poll. Was this not in itself a red flag?

UT-2: Morgan Philpot vs. Jim Matheson

You should know by now that I'm on the warpath about Democrat-held seats in blood red districts. There are 69 Democrat held seats that have a net positive Republican partisan voting index (PVI). There are only 8 Republican-held seats that are in similar Democratic territory. We could take back all those seats, not capture anything in Democrat territory, and take back the House with 29 seats to spare. 

Over the coming days, I'll outline exactly where I think the "sleeper" seats are, and this past weekend, one more popped on my radar: Utah's 2nd Congressional district. 

You might be asking why Utah, one of the most Republican states in the Union, sends a Democrat to Congress, and it's a good question. In a year when Republicans got massacred, McCain still managed 58% of the vote in the Salt Lake City-based UT-2, making it #5 on my PVI-ordered list of Republican targets for 2010.

The vulnerability for now rests on the Democratic side of the ledger. In a sidenote to Bob Bennett's ouster at the state Republican Convention last weekend, Blue Dog Democrat incumbent Jim Matheson was forced into a primary with pro-HCR liberal Claudia Wright. In a shocker, Matheson only managed 55% among party insiders against an opponent with $9K cash on hand. 

The Republican nomination fight is clearer: Morgan Philpot managed to clear a primary and is the nominee. We need to get behind him with our dollars now.

In a wave year, I'm watching for dozens of mini rogue "waves" to take out incumbents previously thought safe -- think of how Rosty was famously ousted in 1994, or Joseph Cao's shock victory against Dollar Bill Jefferson, or races like Tim Walz vs. Gil Gutknecht or Nancy Boyda vs. Jim Ryun in 2006 that were basically thought safe. 

Philpot is an appealing grassroots candidate who could capitalize on a national wave and take the seat, particularly if Matheson is defeated in the primary. 

One suggestion is for Republicans to re-register to vote for Wright in the Democratic primary, making this seat a lay-up in the fall. After Alan Mollohan's 12-point thumping in West Virginia and Arlen Specter's fade in Pennsylvania, I wouldn't be so sure that Matheson is a shoo-in here. This would mean voters foregoing the Republican primary between Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, but let's face it, the UT-2 Congressional race is the only one that will change the color on the map from that state this fall. 

UK Election Aftermath Could Trash the British Political System

So, the Tories did not get their overall majority. The exit poll was correct, by blind luck, as it happens. As the night wore on, you could tell that David Dimbleby and the pundits on the Beeb were genuinely weirded out by how random, and even, American, the results were. Local variations mattered, and people didn't vote as the national polls would have suggested. There were a number of seats with a healthy 8 or 10 percent swing to the Conservatives -- exactly what they needed to take No. 10 outright. But for each one of those, there were marginal seats where the Tories gained a measly 2 to 4 points on Labour, not to mention the Tory vs. Lib Dem marginals where the Tories failed to gain their top targets. 

The British electoral system is not supposed to produce highly localized results like this. Britons are effectively casting a vote for Prime Minister when they vote for their local Member of Parliament. This means that all the factors that prevent huge swings in seats in the US -- primarily, the power of incumbency, are not supposed to be huge factors in the UK. Yet seats with incumbents swung less than open seats, shredding this political theory. 

The result is a hung parliament, with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats now in negotiations about a coalition government. The price of Lib Dem support for a Conservative Government is likely to be a referendum on the electoral system, i.e. replacing single member seats with some form of proportional representation that would guarantee the Lib Dems the same share of seats as they received votes at the polls. 

For America's closest sibling in the family of Western Democracies to go down the failed path of proportional representation is disturbing. 

A system of single member districts with plurality voting (known as first past the post, FPTP) may not be "fair" in each and every single case, but it produces stable majorities that amplify the message voters send to the politicians at election time. 

Britons may by wringing their hands at the first hung Parliament election in 36 years, but last night's results prove that first-past-the-post worked.

Why keep FPTP? Let us count the ways.

Decisive Outcomes. Okay. This didn't totally pan out, but it almost did. The Tories got a near majority in seats on 37 percent of the vote. A simple bargain with the Liberal Democrats is now needed to form a majority, as opposed to the multi-party haggling that would be the norm under PR -- see Israel, where ultra-religious parties hold inordinate sway in coalition governments under strict PR. 

In the vast majority of elections, this also means the largest party is able to govern without the impossible task of getting to 50%. Labour won nearly two thirds of the seats on 43% of the vote in 1997. It may have been "unfair" to the Tories, but to the winner go the spoils. Like our electoral college, having certain winners with magnified majorities allow them to govern more effectively. 

No Westminster Seats for Fascists. Without a relatively high percentage threshold before a party could win seats, PR would guarantee Parliamentary seats for the racist British National Party -- about a dozen or so. They would then be considered a factor in coalition negotiations after any close election, or any election, since no one is likely to get 50%. 

PR systems regularly feature bargains with separatist, nationalist, extremist, and/or fascist parties to achieve governing majority. It's a good idea to let the voters screen the characters they send into government, and achieving a plurality in a local district seems like as good a filter as any. 

PR is Undemocratic. Under PR, you don't (usually) vote for the individual. Political parties submit rank-ordered lists of candidates, and these determine who gets elected. Voters have no opportunity to pass judgment on the individuals who compose that government. 

Despite Predictions, Third Parties Flourish in the UK. All the things political scientists say can't happen under FPTP -- viable third parties, fringe parties who win Parliamentary seats -- all happened in Britain yesterday. 

Despite Britain's winner-take-all election system, the Liberal Democrats have thrived, gradually increasing their vote share since 1992. 

The unique political culture of the UK has also produced more minor parties. Though they don't often win seats -- independents do tend to win more often than they do in the US and extreme localism in the results is becoming more the norm, especially at this election. 

In Barking, the racist British National Party threatened a strong showing, so the voters swung -- against the national tide -- to the safe incumbent Labour MP to send a message. 

In Brighton Pavilion, the Greens had a serious shot to elect its first MP, and voters flocked to that candidate in the face of Labour's collapse. 

In Buckingham, none of the major parties were on the ballot. The Speaker, who does not run under his or her party affiliation and doesn't vote on bills, is traditionally unchallenged. So you saw strong showings for minor parties and independents. 

In 2005, in Bethnall Green & Bow, the odious George Galloway won the seat having resigned from the Labour Party. This year, he retired, but his political party got 16% of the vote trying to retain the seat. 

FPTP Produces Representative Results, Though in Roundabout Ways. The common misconception is that FPTP only "works" in two-party democracies like the US where third parties don't introduce skewed seat totals. Yet the final seat breakdown in Parliament may represent true popular opinion more than you think. 

Liberal Democrat blogs have cited this chart to demonstrate the "unfairness" of the system. 

And indeed, it does look unfair. 23% of the vote for 8% of the seats. Just 6% fewer votes than Labour and less than a fifth the seats. 

But that result is not in and of itself a product of FPTP but of the unique Labour / Liberal Democrat dynamic. There are plenty of third parties around the world, usually regional ones, that outperform their national vote share in seats under FPTP. It's all about how the votes are distributed. 

In the Lib Dems' case, their electoral bases are not strong enough to provide them with a "representative" number of seats. They are a viable second in about a third of the seats, but have few unassailable bastions, in contrast to Labour, which will probably never go below 200 seats in the Commons thanks to its strongholds up North. 

It goes beyond just bad luck. I'd argue that many people vote for Lib Dems for pragmatic reasons: because Labour aren't strong enough in a seat to compete with the Tories. This is certainly the case in about 190 seats in the south and east of England where Labour have been whittled down to an average 15-20% of the vote. Do the Lib Dems really have 40% support in the South when their support elsewhere is 15%? I'd argue not really -- small regional differences have been magnified over time by tactical voting and jockeying to be the alternative to the Tories. Many of those voters are probably Labour sympathizers. 

Considering the localism of the results, voters in Great Britain seem to vote in pragmatic and often less-than-principled ways. It's less about loyalty to a party and more about grabbing the club in the bag that will produce the desired political result in your constituency. In Barking, it was beating the BNP. In other seats, it's keeping the Tory out. In most seats, it was who would help get rid of Gordon Brown. Support for parties other than the Tories and Labour can and will vary wildly based on local conditions as a result. 

If voters voted their true preferences, as they probably would under strict PR, the overall popular vote result would look a lot different than it does now. (I'd argue that the Lib Dems would be dramatically weaker.) But the overall seat pecking order would look much closer than what you see today than you'd think. 

And I say all this despite the fact that the electoral system is far more skewed in favor of Labour than the Tories. In 2005, Labour won 356 seats on 35.3% of the vote. This year, 36.1% of the vote for the Tories is only good enough for 306 seats. And the Tories beat Labour by 7 points, whereas they lost in 2005 by 3!

To a lay observer, this looks grossly unfair. However, if you consider the Lib Dems are a moderate left party that generally exists to hold the Tories in check in their strongholds, the results make perfect sense. If you allocated Lib Dem votes 2 to 1 Labour to the Tories, the Conservative vs. Labour share of seats over the last few elections would begin to make perfect sense. FPTP works in mysterious ways -- but it works! 

There's no guarantee PR will be the ultimate choice of the Liberal Democrats, and political theorists have devised ways to make it seem more palatable, for instance maintaining single member districts while adding a layer of regional districts that combine to produce deadlocked national results. Other alternatives include the Single Transferable Vote and Instant Runoff Voting which I won't explain here, except to highlight the fact IRV has been immediately repealed in nearly half the jurisdictions where it's been tried in the U.S. because after it was found that voters could cast their ballots in a way that defeated their first choice candidate. Here's an even more commonsensical reason to oppose these convoluted alternatives to FPTP: they require an advanced mathematics degree to fully understand. 

The beauty of the British system is its elegance, and its tradition of representative Parliamentary government informs our own Constitution. It would be a shame to see the basis of the system we use to elect our members of Congress be radically altered to get the Tories out of this mess. 

Tories Likely Headed to Overall Majority Today

The final polls before the British election today have been breaking quite nicely for the Conservatives as the Lib Dem boomlet fades, while Labour has been getting no traction and still may finish third in votes. 

The Real Clear Politics average has the final polling average as: 

Conservatives 36%, Liberal Democrats 27.4%, Labour 27%

Right after the first televised debate, the Tories had been down to a 2-3 point lead with many individual polls showing Nick Clegg's Lib Dems in the lead for the first time in the party's history. Ever since, the Tories have been gradually extending a lead at the expense of the Lib Dems. 

If every seat swung uniformly, the encyclopedic Electoral Calculus would give us the following seat breakdown: 

Conservatives 299, Labour 233, Liberal Democrats 86

The Conservatives need 325 to give them an outright majority, and despite these predicted numbers, I think the Tories will manage to avoid a hung Parliament and (just) clear the bar of being able to form a Government without the support of other parties. 

Behind this assumption is the deep suspicion that all seats won't swing uniformly. Some will swing more than others, and those are more likely to be the critical marginal seats where voters feel the greatest burden of deciding who gets into Number 10 and with what kind of Government. 

Already, polls are showing the marginals with an overall swing to the Conservatives of 1 to 2 points greater than the national average. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems might not be able to siphon off Tory seats despite their momentum and may make most of their gains at the expense of Labour. 

In 1997, Labour were predicted to get in with a 370-seat majority. They won 416. Massive tactical voting by Liberal Democrat supporters in competitive Labour vs. Tory seats juiced their total. 

The Tory-Lib Dem alliance in the electorate isn't quite as strong, but it's still a factor against the flailing Labour government: the Conservatives have been gaining completely at the expense of the Lib Dems in the last two weeks, showing there's some overlap in their base. 

Meanwhile, Cameron has been closing strong and making a strong pitch against a hung Parliament. Judging by his party's rising poll numbers, people seem to be buying it:  

An example from over here would help illustrate the point. 

In 2008, Indiana was competitive in a Presidential election for the first time in decades, eventually going to Obama. Yet a uniform national swing would have had McCain still winning the state by 10 points. Its proximity to Obama's home base of Illinois and its economically distressed status can only explain part of this shift. Take a look at this map showing the county-by-county shift in votes from 2004 compared to other neighboring states: 

Indiana was an outlier. The next counties over in Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio did not swing as strongly for Obama despite their demographic similarities and Great Lakes status. 

The only thing that can explain this single state swing is a competition effect. When a state is competitive when it wasn't before, turnout surges as new voters come to the polls. This effect is particularly strong in the handful of states that are portrayed as neck-and-neck or decisive to the outcome. A certain inertia dictating a too-close-to-call race kicks in to produce a single-state outcome that can't be explained by demographics or regional differences. Case in point: Florida was Ground Zero in the 2000 election and it swung less strongly to Bush than would have otherwise been expected. Ohio was Ground Zero in 2004 and it swung differently than Pennsylvania and Michigan which were similar economically and demographically but weren't quite as competitive. Subconsciously, voters in those states seemed to take seriously their role as the "deciders" of the Presidential election and voted accordingly.  

This effect will be magnified in Britain where the governing unit is a Parliamentary constituency one sixth the size of a typical Congressional district here. There you get swings that are well outside the national norms depending on which party is perceived as having the best shot at throwing the bums out. 

One of my favorite stories of this General Election is the race in Morley and Outwood between the unfortunately named Gordon Brown henchman Ed Balls and Conservative challenger Antony Calvert. 

Labour won this newly created seat by 21% at the last general election, yet the race is portrayed as neck-and-beck, with the betting sites now pegging Calvert as the favorite. Calvert has been running a Scott Brown-style Internet campaign fueled by small donations gunning for a "Were you up for Portillo?" moment -- a last-minute come from behind decapitation (or castration?") of a high-value Cabinet minister and potential Party leader. 

What's happening in Morley and Outwood will likely be repeated up and down Great Britain today as people calibrate their votes to do the greatest possible damage to Gordon Brown and Labour, for whom the infamous "bigoted woman" incident was the last straw. 

My prediction: The Tories wind up with 328 seats and the chance to form a Government outright. 

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