Was 2008 a realignment? The myth of "red America" and "blue America"


After an absence of over a year -- and what a year it's been! -- I've decided to begin writing again and, hopefully, contribute something to the discussion.

In the wake of Barack Obama's victory in 2008, "realignment" became the conventional narrative among talking heads, often combined with its sister narrative, the death of conservatism/the GOP/the Reagan Revolution (take your pick). The problem with conventional wisdom is it usually treats a snapshot in time as a summation of all that is, will be, and ever was. And that very problem creates false baselines by which conventional wisdom measures future events.

Coming off two narrow victories by George W. Bush in 2000 (271 electoral votes to 266) and 2004 (286-251), the common understanding of the electoral map was that the country was divided in two: red states and blue states, and that only a small handful of states fell into the "swing" category and determined the outcome. In other words, the map looked something like this:


2004 Map



Flip the "swing state" of Ohio and John Kerry would have been president.


Using those two elections as the standard, Obama's 365 electoral votes in 2008 look like a major diversion from the norm.

However, the truth is that Bush's two elections were the anomaly. Take a look at the last pre-Bush election (1996):


1996 Map

Not only have the "swing states" of OH and FL flipped, but an entire axis stretching through the midwest from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico (with the exception of MN) is in Clinton's column, as are the three western states of NV, AZ and NM and Appalachian states TN, KY and WV.

(Edit: to clarify, obviously MN is in Clinton's column too. I meant that it was excepted from the other states in that it's never been considered a "red" state)

The electoral margin of victory in the five "pre-Bush" elections also suggests something very different than a "divided America":

  • 1996 (Clinton-Dole): 379-159 
  • 1992 (Clinton-Bush): 370-168
  • 1988 (Bush-Dukakis): 426-111
  • 1984 (Reagan-Mondale): 525-13
  • 1980 (Reagan-Carter): 489-49

In fact, to find a president elected with fewer than 300 electoral votes, you have to go back to Jimmy Carter's 1976 win over Gerald Ford (297-240). The next one that's even close is Richard Nixon's 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey (301-191), and if one assumes that, but for the presence of George Wallace on the ballot, Nixon would have carried AR, LA, MS, AL, and GA, his victory jumps to 346-191.

To varying degrees, most elections have represented consensus on the part of the electorate (despite the protestations of the losing party and its followers), and 2008 simply returns us to that pattern. The 2000 and 2004 elections, rather than reflecting the "divided America" that was such a popular narrative (see the "snapshot" comment above), reflect more on the failure of Bush and his campaign to achieve consensus, rather than a unique level of division.

The point of all this is that in the long view, the reality is that "flexible independents" rule. By this I mean not just those who are not registered as Republicans or Democrats, but those who are generally inclined toward one party (and thus registered), but won't rule out voting for the other (think Reagan Democrats). These voters are largely working and middle class, and are particularly concerned with everyday-living issues such as jobs, education, and (when they feel it affects them directly, such as after 9/11) national security. One of the reasons Ohio goes with the winner so consistently is it represents a microcosm of these voters. They're not particularly ideological, and neither are the election results they produce, which is why both a very conservative (by 1980 standards) Reagan and a very liberal Obama can rack up such big wins. Once a "comfort threshold" is reached, the voters will hand them the keys to the White House, based on the belief that they're better equipped to manage those issues than the other guy.

It is within this prism that the question of "realignment" must be answered.  I don't know if anyone's ever established a hard and fast definition of realignment, but in my mind it represents a long-lasting shift in a segment of the electorate -- geographic, demographic or otherwise -- from general fealty to one party to the other.  Of course, the only way to measure if it's long-lasting is to see whether the shift holds through a string of elections.  The most obvious example would be the shift of a stripe of southern states (MS, AL, GA, SC, and NC) from a Democratic lock through 1960 to reliable Republican territory (with the exception of GA, which went for favorite son Jimmy Carter and also Bill Clinton in 1992) for the 48 years that followed, losing only NC in 2008.

Here's the 2008 map:

2008 Map

(Note Nebraska, which apportions electoral votes, also awarded Obama 1 vote, not reflected visually)

With the longer pattern in mind, the only earth-shattering wins for Obama are IN, VA, NC, and possibly CO.  I will leave to others to break down exit polls and try to read the tea leaves on whether Obama's wins in these states are indicative of a lasting lock by Democrats, but it seems unlikely.  Increased turnout among African-American voters -- who already vote for Democrats in excess of 90% -- was crucial to Obama's win in NC.  It's difficult to imagine the Democrats sustaining that turnout for just any Democratic candidate.

Much has also been made of Obama's success among younger voters, and indeed it was this success that allowed Obama to change the playing field and snatch the Democratic nomination from the "inevitable" Hillary Clinton, and at least in part helps account for the fact that in 2008 Obama netted the highest number of voters in American history.  But it also remains to be seen if these voters will continue to turnout for Democrats generally in future elections, or if their loyalties will remain constant throughout their lives.  It seems like a silly assumption that no 18-year-old Reagan voter in 1980 became a 30-year-old Clinton voter in 1992, or a 46-year-old Obama voter in 2008.  Similar assumptions about Obama's youngest voters seem equally silly.

So was 2008 a realignment?  In regard to a few states, the jury's still out, and will be until 2012 and beyond.  However, given the 2008 election's similarity to most other presidential elections, it seems unlikely.  Candidate Obama clearly sealed the deal for a consensus among the above-described "flexible independents", but the Democrats' string of losses in statewide elections in VA, NJ and MA since then suggest that his 2008 win isn't translating into large numbers of newly loyal Democrats.

It seems much more plausible that Obama ran a smart, effective campaign in a year when these "flexible independents" were already inclined to pass the baton to the Democrats, perceiving the Republicans as no longer competent to govern.  Such power shifts, particularly among these voters, are almost always based on perceived competence, not ideology, which probably explains why so many of these same voters have bristled at Obama's attempts to pursue a Great Society-esque program of social welfare and government intervention in the economy.

It seems to me that how Obama and the Democrats adjust their governance to the concerns of the "flexible independents" will have far more bearing on their future electoral fortunes than any perceived shifts in the electorate in 2008.



McCain Blogger Releases Book

Just Released - An Independent Call by Katherine J. Morrison

An Independent Call, is the amusing story of a New Hampshire Independent and McCain supporter in the 2008 election. Along with a lighter take on the presidential election, An Independent Call gives an insightful look at the political parties, and the media during this two-year long process. 

Epping, NH April 22, 2009 – An Independent Call is a fun and original take on the presidential election through the eyes of a New Hampshire Independent and McCain volunteer. It recounts the journey of a skeptical observer as she was converted into a die-hard McCain supporter. From meeting candidates from both sides of the aisle, to becoming a blogger for McCain, to being chewed out on campaign phone calls, to receiving press credentials for the Republican National Convention, this account relates the experience of being a participant at the lowest level politics from an outsider's perspective. An Independent Call is a mix of good humor and political opinion from the middle.

An Independent Call is published by Broad Side of the Barn Publishing, and is available for purchase on their website – BroadSideoftheBarn.com . The author Katherine Morrison is a New Hampshire resident and blogger. She is the creator/author of PurplePeopleVote.com, and has a background in web development.

Rockingham NH County Commissioner, Maureen Barrows, recommends An Independent Call stating that it is…

"A must read for anyone interested in the day to day life of a volunteer in a political campaign...attention to detail is brilliant."

For more information on An Independent Call, please visit BroadSideoftheBarn.com.

*Excerpts of An Independent Call also available at BroadSideoftheBarn.com.

Race and the 2008 Election: What the Exit Polls Showed

This exit poll statistic is a candidate for most underreported fact of the 2008 election.

Those who said race was an important factor voted 55 percent to 44 percent in favor of Obama.

So, as Mike Turk had predicted last year, racism was a more common factor among Democrats than Republicans in the 2008 election.

This may explain why the 'racism factor' stories disappeared so quickly after the campaign, replaced (if it was discussed at all) by "race not a factor in election" stories.


Digg!Last year in Iraq, 5,908 civilians and Iraqi soldiers and police were killed between January 1, 2008 and December 29, 2008. Members of the police carry a coffin of one of their own. Seven police employees were killed in the same incident that took this fallen officers life

In Mexico, 5,376 Mexican federal agents, police and civilians were killed by drug traders during that same time priod.

So it can be safely said that nearly as many Mexicans died as a result of drug terrorists as did Iraqi’s from the terrorism in their war torn nation.

All of us are aware of the threats posed by terrorism. 9/11 brought that fact home and since the events of September 11, 2001, America has been on guard and on the offense in that War On Terror. Since that dreadful day and our somewhat official declaration of War on Terror, not a single attack has again taken place on American soil.

That is quite a contrast from the record that we accumulated in the decades since we declared the War On Drugs.

The term “war on drugs’ was first used by President Richard Nixon in 1971. At the time it was a play on the well known “War On Poverty” penned by the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid 60’s. The technical aspects of the War On Drugs have varied over time but it’s basic strategy has remained the same……. employ the cooperation of other nations to eliminate the illegal drug trade and eliminate the selling and use of illegal drugs through an aggressive zero tolerance, law enforcement agenda and a persistent and wide spread anti-drug education program and campaign.

To some degree, it has helped but the amount of time and money spent on the effort has produced results that are less than stellar. The rate of success in the War On Drugs certainly would not be considered acceptable in the War On Terror and yet as far apart as the results of the two are from each other, they are about to become one in the same.

Iraq is 6,005 miles away from the shores of the Unites States off of New York.That is a long distance yet we know distance, although it may not make things easier, still does not prevent terrorist attacks from taking place here. Mexico isn’t even inches away though. So terrorism through Mexico is even easier. They are connected to us, and not just physically. They are connected to us by direct and immediate contact through trade health  agriculture and citizens, legal and illegal. But perhaps the greatest connection between the United states and Mexico is drugs.

It is a deadly connection. One that dulls the minds of millions, endangers the lives of hundreds of thousands and killsA soldier stands guard in front of the Camino Real Hotel in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. tens of thousands each year. Drugs are probably the most prolific and profitable commodity exchanged across the U.S.-Mexican border, yet, despite the negative effects, it’s illegality and the “war” on them, drugs flow form South to North with the ease of the Shenandoah River in the Virginias.

The incredibly violent rate of drug deaths in Mexico during 2008 is a loud warning bell. It rings with more dire warning than the bellowing horns of the Titanic as it went down after the iceberg tore a lethal hole into it’s hull. The incredible number of deaths occurred as a result of the increased boldness of drug cartels and gangs. They have taken a stand and made it clear that they are defiant and will not allow any government to infringe on their livelihoods.

In 2008, an increasing amount of Mexican drug lords have made incursions into the United States. One of the most recent well publicized events brought about an Amber Alert after the grandson of a man with shady loan debts to drug dealers kidnapped his grandson. The boy turned up in Las Vegas, but the drug dealer’s message was clear.

However, I must ask, what will it take for the drug issue to be truly taken seriously in the United States?

Would it have made a difference if that little California boy was found with his throat slashed?

How many more incidents will it take before we realize that terrorism is about to get a partner. A partner that, like Palestinians in Gaza firing missiles into Israel, will be lobbing more violence into America. America must wake up. While there are those so far on the left and so far to the right that they meet together in the ideological circle and both try to legalize illegal drug use, an explosion of death and violence that we have not seen before is about to unleash itself.

I am well aware that drug violence is nothing new, but the extent to which it is escalating is new and yet we sit idly by as though things are not different. We almost accept it as commonplace.

Do you know how ingrained the drug culture has become in our southern neighbor? Ever hear narcocorrido? antnarcoscorridos

Narcocorrido is a form of music based on a type of Mexican folk music called corrido. It sounds like a Latin polka and goes way back in time. It was used to celebrate revolutionary figures and heroes like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. The new version is called narcocorrido and it sings the praises of drug traffickers and drug related bandits. One older narcocorrido sings about Camelia the Texan, and her boyfriend who go to Los Angeles with a load of marijuana in their car’s tires. They sell it and Camelia’s boyfriend dumps her, saying, Here’s your half, now I’m going up to San Francisco to my true love.”

The song goes on to sing about how Camelia pulls out a gun and pumps him full of lead. It concludes with the line……… All the police found was the fired pistol; of the money and Camelia, nothing more was ever known.”

Sweet tune, isn’t it?

Not that the little ditty is astonishing.

Here in America, with the likes of P.Diddy, 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, and others, the lyrics of that narcocorrido could be considered tame by American standards. Then again, standards are the problem.

Just as narcocorrido is easing into mainstream Mexico, acceptance of drugs and drug violence has been easing into American culture. That is not to say that we think violence or drug violence is good, but our tolerance of it has increased as our Photobucketintolerance of drugs has leveled off.

For example, I can recall a recall a comments board for a local newspaper in New Jersey called the Asbury Park Press. In it was a story about underage teens arrested for drinking alcohol at a party that they held in their home while their parents were away. More than 60 percent of the comments were of the “let them be” impression. Some said “kids will be kids” and others said “the police should be doing more important things than enforcing underage drinking laws”.

I am not suggesting to bring back prohibition of alcohol but I am merely pointing out the permissiveness that is increasing in society. People are actually suggesting that kids should be let off the hook for breaking laws. My point is just as it took 9/11 to finally deal with terrorism effectively, what will it take for us to deal with drugs and the drug trade effectively?

I for one feel that some of the intentions of the “War On Drugs” must be dealt with by using the same sense of conviction that 9/11 created, especially when it comes to the drug wars goal of employing the cooperation of other nations to eliminate the illegal drug trade. But more than that, I believe it would be encouraging if we at least secured our border with Mexico. In fact I believe that is, first and foremost, our nations top priority.

YES!, our most important priority. More so than even the economy.Secure Border Avavatar

Without a secure border there will be no economy to handle.

At a later date, I will detail a proposal of my own that I have previously released. It is called Open Arms-Secure Borders. It is a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that welcomes legal immigration but defends the sovereignty of our nation and respects and secures our borders.

For now though, Americans must at least acknowledge the fact that the iceberg is in sight and the U.S.S. Freedom & Prosperity better start steering in another direction or like the Titanic, we will tear apart our hull of security.





During what can, at the very least, only beanttitaniccomic considered tough economic times, Congress is looked at for acting responsibly and demonstrating some fiscal responsibility.

Yet despite these facts, Congress goes ahead and accepts an automatic pay raise.

Doing so is reminiscent of the captain of the Titanic demanding that iceberg lettuce be served with dinner the night the great vessel went down.


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Be Sure To Sign The Petition To


Sign the Online Petition - Repeal The Automatic Pay Raise That Congress Is Receiving

Pass The Link On To Family, Friends and Co-workers



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Obama for President Wasn’t a Campaign, It Was a Business

The political blogosphere is buzzing about Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s interview. Soren Dayton argues the lessons of the Obama campaign were “budgeting, technology, field, and media,” while Patrick Ruffini finds that the important lesson is that “Obama ran a better kind of offline campaign.” Although it is quite true that these are some critical lessons, as a business nerd and student at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, I think there’s a massive lesson that pundits are missing: Obama for President wasn’t run like a traditional campaign, but instead like a huge corporation. I don’t believe that any campaign on this level was ever able to accomplish this with nearly the same success as Plouffe and company.

Plouffe makes this unmistakenably clear throughout his interview:

There are business analogies. One is, we’re a startup, we had to go from zero to 60 in a matter of weeks. Our company, if we were successful, would only last two years at the most. … We had over 5,000 employees… And we were an organization about accountability. Down to the entry-level staffer, we measured their job performance based on metrics.

What specific trends that the most successful modern corporations employ were echoed by the Obama campaign?

  1. “Know your customer.” I’ve probably heard this from my entrepreneurship advisor a thousand times now, but only because it is perhaps the single most important phrase in business. Obama’s campaign really knew its customers – just look at the way it outreached to young voters.
  2. A consistent message and high-impact branding. These two go hand in hand. Take Apple, a highly successful company even despite the recession, for example: they have a simple but highly memorable logo, effective messaging (i.e. “Get a Mac” ads), and a well-designed and innovative website. Barack Obama’s branding and messaging was as good as any corporation.
  3. Job performance measurement and personal accountability. Think quarterly or annual reviews at your place of work. As quoted earlier, Plouffe confirms the importance of this in the Obama campaign: “Down to the entry-level staffer, we measured their job performance based on metrics.”
  4. Fiscal accountability. Successful corporations have very specific budgets, and virtually all spending is highly scrutinized. Plouffe notes that, “People on the campaign could not make more than a certain amount—$12,000 a month… If you were a deputy you got paid X, if you were an assistant, you got paid Y… From a fiscal management standpoint, Obama was very clear that he did not want to end up with a debt in the primary or the general, so we just planned accordingly. We didn’t spend beyond our means.” (emphasis added)
  5. A willingness to take significant financial risks and depart with the norm to be on the cutting-edge. This sentiment was echoed by the Obama campaign at many levels. Team Obama got the idea of peer production, which is quickly becoming the premiere business model of leading corporations like IBM, Boeing, BMW, and Goldcorp. In addition, as Patrick and Soren point out, Obama invested the campaign’s resources in a very unique way – remember the advertisements the campaign ran on an Xbox 360 racing game?
  6. A corporate infrastructure. Since when does a political campaign have both a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and a new media director – let alone a Chief [Anything] Officer?

In business, constant innovation is crucial. Fall behind and your competitors will likely crush you. Find a decisive edge and you stand to profit immensely. Plouffe’s comments and the results of the election demonstrate that business and politics are actually two very similar animals.

Crossposted at NextGenGOP.

Obama Swallows Poison Pill, Spares GOP from Pyrrhic Victory

The outcome of the election, as reported by the media, was one of a historic victory by Barack Obama and the Democrat Party. However, I want to put a look on this going forward as opposed to going backwards. My take on it is that Obama and the Democrats have swallowed the poison pill of a bad economy and John McCain and the Republicans were spared from a Pyrrhic victory.

Defined, a poison pill is that of a strategic move in politics or business designed to increase the likelihood of negative results as opposed to positive ones during a takeover. By winning the 2008 Presidential and Congressional elections, President-elect Barack Obama and the Democrats have willfully swallowed a big poison pill left behind by George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, a Pyrrhic victory comes from King Pyrrhus, the ruler of Eprius, who won a series of battles that his army won in 280 and 279 BC against the Romans but the casualties they took on were devastating. Had John McCain been elected President, it would have been one such victory that would have been enough to strengthen Democrat majorities in the House and Senate while setting up the Democrats for a landslide win in 2012. For that, McCain and the Republicans spared themselves what would have been a costly victory.

The good news for the Republicans is that there are a number of ways that Obama can consume poison pills and do so happily while fooling himself by proclaiming it as an “engine of change”. Believe me, that the Republicans will be more than happy to keep supplying the poison pills. All of this with the GOP’s rise back to the top by 2012.

Had the roles been reversed with McCain winning and a Democrat-led Congress to work with, the Democrats would have blocked many of McCain’s economic policies and would force him to cross the aisle for the policies they wanted, which would have made McCain the second-comings of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.

In the end, it would have made John McCain’s Presidential win that very Pyrrhic victory that would have lengthened the minority of the Republicans in government and turned John McCain’s legacy from that of “Maverick” John McCain the war hero to John S. McCain the failed President. Instead, Obama and the Democrats took a tighter grip on power that could ultimately give the public one reason to vote Republican.

What Obama and the Democrats are proposing could be a prescription for an unmitigated economic disaster that could lead to GOP victories in 2010 and 2012. Those victories also assume that the Republican leadership in Congress and party back in working order.

If nothing else, it would be highly unlikely that Obama governs from the political center. Back in 1992, then-President-elect Bill Clinton was told by House Democrats that they would pull support for centrist positions of his if he tried to get Republicans to vote for his proposals. They told Clinton that if he stayed within the confines of the Democrat Congressional and Senatorial Caucuses, they would deliver other policy proposals. That ended in 1994 with a Republican landslide in the House and Senate elections.

Before that, Jimmy Carter decided that he was not going to govern from the left in the early stages of his presidency. The end result was a clear alienation of his own party that led to Carter vetoing in four years more than double the bills that George W. Bush did in eight years. By the time Carter tried to woo the liberal base of his party, it was too late. Thanks to not governing from the left and his ineptitude, Ronald Reagan defeated him in a 44-state landslide in 1980 in an election that was over one hour before the polls closed on the west coast.

President-elect Obama is now in a bad spot electorally. If the economy goes from bad to worse post-2009, Obama and the Democrats will not have Bush to blame. Instead, they will have to answer the question “What have you done for me lately?” If they’re not careful, the Republicans will start by making significant electoral gains in 2010 and could regain power back from the Democrats in 2012. That would be the final, fatal poison pill.

There was no secret by the Obama campaign about their desires to raise the capital gains tax from 15 percent to anywhere between 20 to 28 percent. The last time an increase in the capital gains tax was implemented was back in 1986 when the tax code was reformed under Ronald Reagan to make the capital gains rate the same as the top rate of 28 percent. When implemented, capital gains tax revenues dropped 44 percent because selling stock became less desirable.

What could make matters worse is the desire of Obama and the Democrats to raise the top marginal income tax rate from the current 35 percent rate to that of the 39.6 percent it was back in 2000. There are a number of serious consequences that would arise from a tax increase in an economic slowdown or an economic recovery. According to Obama’s proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top five percent of wage earners ($153,542 in adjusted gross income or more) and Obama’s proposed removal the income cap on FICA taxes could impose a federal tax rate of 54.9 percent.

As for the rest of the Bush tax cuts, they will be set to expire on January 1, 2011. If there is now tax cut extension put in to place, an economy that could be poised for a recovery would instead suffer a contraction. George W. Bush will not anywhere close to the scene of the crime (he’ll probably be getting ready to go fishing in Texas by this time) to be blamed and Obama would take the hit. In other words, Obama will be the first President to run for reelection on the heels of a recession since George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Spending can also get out of hand with the Democrats wanting more money for more spending programs. John Kerry has called for a new New Deal and Barney Frank has called for more spending, deficit be damned. This, combined with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s push for funding for embryonic stem cell research (which is more throwing good money after bad since embryonic stem cell research has produced no cures while over 80 cures have been found via adult stem cell research) and Ted Kennedy’s push for socialized health care will be enough to generate our first-ever trillion-dollar deficit.

Once the recession is over, the next monster the economy will become hyperinflation that has gone unseen since the 1970’s. The contributors will be record deficit spending, energy prices run amok, and artificially increasing wages.

Obama has proposed raising it from the $5.15 it was back in 2006 when the economy was actually good to the $7.25 per hour wage that it will be next summer to $9.50 by 2011. The dirty little secret about labor pricing in economics is that if you inflate wages against the will of employers, you actually create more unemployment—like what is happening right now.

If you look at the inflation-adjusted number of the original minimum wage when it was implemented in late 1938, today’s minimum wage would only be $3.64 an hour. The $9.50 an hour that Obama would attempt to implement would be the 1938 equivalent of 68 cents. In other words, when adjusted for inflation, non-skilled workers—mostly high school teenagers, people working for the first time, and those looking to start a business by learning a trade—are making more than 2.61 times more than what they were making 70 years ago.

In some ways, inflation was made worse by the Carter administration in the 1970’s by increasing the minimum wage every year he was in office. When Carter took office, the federal minimum wage was $2.30 an hour. That figure went up to $2.65 an hour in 1978, $2.90 an hour in 1979, $3.10 an hour in 1980 and to $3.35 an hour when he left office in January 1981. By comparison, the Reagan administration never passed a minimum wage increase and one would not take effect for more than nine years.

Why does the minimum wage matter? It is the only real way to create a trickle-up economic effect. It will increase wages across the board by an even bigger percentage than that of a minimum wage increase. Employers will respond to higher taxes and higher wages with higher job cuts. We will be longing for the days of a 6.5 percent unemployment rate.

Then there is the credit crisis as we are facing as banks are more reluctant to give loans for any reason. Obama wants to give selected homeowners the ability to refinance during a 90-day foreclosure freeze. That will lead to a freeze on lending for either the same length of time to one that’s even longer. That is, unless of course, Congress decides to force banks to lend (which is what got many of the banks in this mess in the first place).

With the shrinking equity from Wall Street and the reduced lending of the banks (barring mandatory lending against the better interests of the banks), businesses will be harder-pressed for cash which will lead to more layoffs and less production of goods. When inflation by contraction (stagflation) on this scale happens, more Congressional bailouts won’t be enough to save corporate and small-business America.

Speaking of bailouts, there will be a push to bailout the automotive industry to the tune of $250 billion. For once, I agree with Congressmen like Dennis Kucinich. It is only on the issue of equating this to corporate welfare. However, he and his fellow far-leftists in the Democrat Party will likely acquiesce thanks to all of the additional goodies thrown in the form of pork-barrel spending projects to win votes just like what Nancy Pelosi did with her first Iraq spending bill that George W. Bush promptly vetoed.

The end result is a Democrat Party and an Obama administration overwhelmed with political poison pills gladly accepted on their part from the Republicans. By 2012, Obama will likely go down as one of America’s worst presidents and could make Americans long for the days of—dare I say—George W. Bush. At that point, the American public will vote probably for Republicans…any Republican.


What happened: Election edition

Facts did not matter in this election. This election was decided based on how much free stuff the candidates promised to hand out, and we just couldn't compete with Prince Barack.

But I really don't think that we lost as badly as everyone wants to portray it. Obama's edge in the popular vote is going to be less than 7%.  Considering that we have been through four years where every possible bad thing that could happen happened--natural disasters, botched Social Security reform, highest gas prices ever, botched immigration reform, costly wars, recession, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Republican scandals, the most unpopular Presidential term in U.S. history, the media functioning as a campaign arm for Prince Barack, a Republican candidate with no message, an election where the Republican candidate was outspent 4:1 and lost every debate by a wide margin--why Obama didn't win in a FDR-like landslide should be the question people ask, not why we lost.

To be sure, though, the exit polling/results indentifies some disturbing trends:

--White voters voted for McCain by the same margin they voted for Bush in 2000. But their percentage of the electorate declined from 81% to 74%. Meanwhile, minorities are even more Democratic than they were when Bush was elected.

This is going to be a huge problem for the GOP in Nevada, where the white vote declined from 77% to 69% in four years--and will continue when Prince Barack signs the amnesty bill. Remember,  Bush only narrowly won Nevada and Prince Barack won it by double digits this time around.

It's also a problem in Florida, where McCain lost because of a huge movement among Hispanics to Obama. Obama won hispanics there 57-42 while Bush won them by double digits in 2004. By contrast, the white vote in 2008 was identical to 2004.

--In Colorado there was a large shift among whites to Obama, who won them despite the fact that Bush carried them by double digits in 2004.

--We lost Indiana and North Carolina. I suspect we lost North Carolina for the same reasons we lost Virginia--more liberal migrants. But I really have no response to Obama winning Indiana other than to note it borders Illinois.

Other observations:

--Obama's four point margin in Ohio was unimpressive considering that Ohio is going through hard economic times and that Bush only won it by 2 points.

--People keep saying that we  need more white working class voters to make up for the more liberal white college graduates. But the loss of white college grads is made up for a gain in minority college grads.

Looking back and looking forward


Looking Back

The right way to read this election is in proper historical context and not against the relativistic markers that are being set-up by superficial, media driven analysis.  Indeed, the most remarkable thing about this presidential election is the utter unremarkability of its result despite the apparent uniqueness of the circumstances that surrounded it.

Despite Senator Obama’s race, name, and fundraising, Senator McCain’s age, Governor Palin’s sex, and the existence of Joe the plumber, Senator Obama won almost precisely as many votes as most professional forecasting models predicted he would at the start of the summer.  Among these, Alan Abramowitz's "time for change" forecasting model predicts over 90% of the observed variance in post-WWII presidential election results (two party popular vote) ont the basis of only three variables:  the length of time an incumbent party has held office, economic growth, and incumbent presidential popularity.

Each of these three key variables were working against Senator McCain’s campaign, and I discuss them in turn below.

 1. Incumbency

There are definite cycles and swing in American public opinion, at least since World War II, which translate into swings in the electoral fortunes of Republicans and Democrats as the country’s mood changes over time.  In particular, the ideological tenor of public opinion tends to move against the party in power.  Explanations for this range from impressionistic “time for change” approaches to more precise “thermostatic models.”  Whatever the reason, though, the electoral result at the presidential level is clear, two-term partisan presidential cycles are the norm and have been since President Eisenhower replaced President Truman.  The only exceptions to this rule of thumb are associated with Ronald Reagan: i.e. President Carter’s defeat in 1980 and Vice President Bush’s victory in 1988. 

Senator McCain could not help the timing of his campaign in this cycle.  Senator Obama’s campaign maximized the electoral benefit of this dynamic by emphasizing “change” as a campaign theme.  However, claims to “do something different” were principally effective because of their employment in relative to cyclical dynamics which were pushing the country towards the Democratic Party in any event.

2. Economic Growth

Milton Friedman wrote that government efforts to influence real economic growth are unpredictable and, at best, work with “long and variable lags.”  Nevertheless, voters are apt to hold presidents and presidential candidates of the incumbent party accountable for the state of the macro economy.  Moreover, most voters have short memories when it comes to judging presidents in terms of the economy.  Thus, a fresh recession along with reasonable prospects for a lengthy contraction is the worst possible recipe for an incumbent party presidential candidate.  Senator McCain’s campaign faced both.

 In the long-run, developing a reasonable conservative public prescription to limit the extent and duration of the current economic downturn is obviously important.  Yet, policy proposals were largely irrelevant to the election in the short run.  The “punish” incumbents dynamic of aggregate voter behavior in an economic downturn is largely immune to distinctions between left and right economic policies.  Thus, the election results should not be viewed as either a rejection of conservative, pro-growth economic policies or an endorsement of redistributive populism.  Instead, they are an irrational assignment of blame.

3. President Bush

The lack of support for President Bush is the final important structural element of Senator McCain’s defeat and, perhaps, the problem which raises the greatest prospective challenge to the Republican Party.  While scholars will spend years dissecting the Bush presidency, there is convincing preliminary evidence that the public’s rejection of the administration stems principally from its ownership of the war in Iraq and the growth of antipathy towards the war.  Despite the objective merits of the war and its many military and political successes, the failure to produce evidence of the Iraqi weapons program which justified the war a priori and the inadequacy of early counter-insurgency efforts—which were ultimately remedied by the surge—doomed the war in the public’s mind, particularly as the human and financial costs of the war accumulated over time.  Together, these elements created an impression of managerial ineptitude, which was almost certainly compounded by the handling of Hurricane Katrina, the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and the US Attorney firing scandal, among others. 

Importantly, though, there is little evidence that the country rejected the ideological elements of President Bush’s domestic policy programs above and beyond the sort of “time for change” fatigue that is typically observed at the end of any president’s second term.  Politically important opposition to President Bush—i.e. opposition from malleable moderate elements of the electorate—is largely a function of perceived incompetence.  All else equal (i.e. given the war), there is a high probability that President Bush would have been just as (un)popular had he pursued other domestic policies that were more conservative or oriented towards reducing the size and scope of government, etc., but he would have been no less popular.

Looking Forward

This analysis suggests that the election results should not be read for ideological content.  President Bush is not unpopular because he is conservative, nor did Senator McCain lose because he is too conservative.  Instead, the country predictably signaled for a change in party control of government.

Taking the view that presidential election results are typically exogenous to party platforms, campaigns, and other acts of individual agency indicates a certain level of realism in preparing for the future.  There is no silver bullet, and Republicans are unlikely to regain control of the White House in 2012.  Barring a “sticky” Carter-like period of economic decline (a possible but unlikely outcome), the economy will be in recovery during the 2012 election cycle—which will benefit President Obama’s reelection bid—while “time for change” dynamics will not yet be ripe.

In any event, the best way forward for the Republican Party is to set itself up to take advantage of the historical cycles of American electoral behavior to maximize its cyclical advantages and produce important conservative policy changes that cannot easily be undone.  In other words, election victories will come and go independent of most of our efforts.  The object to win elections contra larger political cycles is counterproductive.  A more important and meaningful approach follows from leveraging victories, when they come, into strategic conservative policy changes that will accumulate over time moving America back to a more traditional, small government course.

Short Term: 2010

The first opportunity to leverage these cyclical advantages will come in the 2010 midterm elections.  Despite some recent exceptions, the party of the president usually suffers a net decline of seats in Congress during off-year elections.  This provides a realistic opportunity for the Republican Party to regain control of the House and reduce the Democratic majority in the Senate in the very near term.

This national cyclical advantage should be supplemented in four ways: 

  1. Aggressive candidate recruitment: The pool of quality potential congressional candidates for the GOP should be quite large.  In particular, the drawdown of the American military presence in Iraq will make a pool of new veterans—largely inclined to conservative politics—available.
  2. Web-based fundraising through bundling PACs:  Traditional bundling PACs accept and forward paper checks to listed candidates.  A smart web-based bundling PAC could allow donors to initiate a single transaction on the PAC’s  website that would be forwarded electronically to list candidates per the donors' instructions.
  3. A young ground game:  Colleges and universities are enormous pools of high quality, low cost, and eager political talent.  Creative efforts to transport, house, and support college students as canvassers and phone-bank workers for targeted congressional races could help overcome the chronic lack of labor that make sophisticated GOTV efforts difficult for many congressional campaigns.
  4. A new “Contract with America”: The evidence suggests that issues play a limited role in campaign outcomes.  But, the perception of the role of issues in an election outcome can be very important for developing claims of a mandate to enact policy changes after the election.  Within some limits, a strong policy platform is unlikely to either help or hurt a national campaign for Congress.  But, it can help provide a launching pad to actually enact conservative policies, particularly over the objections of a sitting President Obama.  Some potential items might include:
    1. A balanced budget amendment that includes requirements for reasonable debt payment timetables
    2. Income tax simplification to make one-page filing a reality and increase transparency
    3. Income tax reduction on the first $10,000 of income from interest and dividends to encourage savings and investment
    4. Healthcare reforms to allow doctors to charge on a sliding scale without risking reduced payments from insurance companies.
    5. Strong web use privacy laws limiting the type of information that websites can collect and store about users

Intermediate Term: 2012

Conditions for a Republican presidential victory in 2012 are unlikely to materialize.  However, evidence of slow economic growth or continued recession and, perhaps, important foreign policy or military errors (akin to the Iranian hostage taking during the Carter administration) combined with a Republican candidate with substantial objective managerial competence will have a nontrivial chance at success.

A number of plausible candidates meet these conditions including Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and General David Petraeus (should he have political aspirations in civilian life).  Since there is little historical data to adjudicate among these choices, I will refrain from speculating on their respective merits except to note that each of these candidates has a background as a governor or high-ranking military officer and that these executive backgrounds are probably most aptly symbolic of the competence that a 2012 victory would demand.

In any event, 2012 is likely to be most consequential as part of an ongoing effort to re-establish Republic parity with Democratic fundraising and voter mobilization.  These efforts deserve high priority in any long-term planning.

Long term: 2016

Though it seems far-off, the historical data suggests that 2016 will be the Republican Party’s most favorable point for returning to the presidency.  The long time horizon prohibits meaningful speculation about specific personalities or issues that will be ripe for the effort.  However, it is important that the cyclical advantage that Republicans will enjoy should be reinforced at the margins by a strong, national infrastructure of web-based fundraising and network-driven GOTV efforts. 

Also, Republicans should come to the 2016 election with a clear “Contract with America” style platform of specific policy proposals that link presidential leadership with a congressional commitment to act.  This target is unlikely to be helpful in winning the election beyond the cyclical trends that will advantage Republicans.  Rather, the document will provide a credible claim of an electoral mandate for the changes endorsed by the platform.


The Obama Rules

[Promoted - Pete Snyder, a colleague of mine, combines his pollster, campaign and social marketing hats to offer this very good analysis of the 2008 Presidential campaign and election.  Jon Henke]

There is no doubt that this year presented the toughest political climate for Republicans since Watergate; indeed, this campaign has been an uphill fight for McCain or any GOP nominee. That said Barack Obama, David Axelrod and their team deserve a huge amount of respect and credit for running a nearly flawless campaign.

They didn’t fight today’s war with yesterday’s weapons and most importantly their campaign was based on a superior strategy. For the purposes of this column, let’s forget about the issues, let’s forget about the climate and let’s ignore message for a moment. The simple fact is that Obama and his campaign chiefs understood two of the most significant (but little talked about) changes of this campaign cycle:

  1. The Election Timetable fundamentally shifted from being just about Election Day or even the last 72 hours (as was the rule of thumb for decades) to being decided as early as six weeks in advance.
  2. Due to the seismic changes in how voters get and process information that we marketers have seen for quite some time, just like consumers, the voter is now in control and, thus, would be open to making their voting decisions earlier than ever.

Combined, these two critical assumptions that turned conventional campaign wisdom on its head, helped provide Obama with a major strategic advantage over McCain. Here’s how:

Virginia Turnout Tea Leaves

Via Twitter and from friends, I had collected some turnout numbers this morning from precincts in Northern Virginia that I'll share here.

Turnout in my precinct -- Fairfax County #517 (Willston) was very high -- about 440 by the time I voted at 9:30 a.m. -- or about 45% of 2004's turnout of 976 voters. A poll worker said that 250 people had voted by 8 a.m., or 26% of 2004 turnout. I expect my precinct to go 70-30 for Obama.

A source in downtown Leesburg placed his turnout at 750 of a 2004 total of 1,768 at 11 a.m. That's 43% of 2004 -- roughly the same number as in my precinct, but an hour and a half later. This precinct went narrowly for Bush in '04 and I expect it will go narrowly for Obama this time.

Via Twitter, Justin Hart (who lives in exurban Loudoun) reported that he was around #600 in a precinct that voted 4,015 people in 2004 and went for Bush 60-40. However, his tweet references 3,000 people registered, so it's not outside the realm that the precinct was split. Assuming a turnout of 2,400 people, that would be 25% voted by 9:00 a.m. about what it was at 8 a.m. in my precinct.

I'll submit this FWIW. Based on this and the exit poll debacle, it seems that Democrats vote early in the day, and Republicans later. So we'll see.

If you voted in Virginia today, leave a comment with your voting number and what time you voted. And remember to estimate the total number of people voted in all lines not just yours. You can look up the 2004 turnout figures from your precinct here.

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