Monthly Archives: September 2012

Nearly everyone uses government benefits

When Mitt Romney told the guests at a fund-raiser in Florida in May that America is divided between people who pay no income taxes and depend on government and pretty much everyone else, he missed the deeper truth. It is not just that most of the 47 percent Mr. Romney talked about do pay payroll taxes and that many of them have paid income taxes in the past. The reality he glossed over is that nearly all Americans have used government social policies at some point in their lives. The beneficiaries include the rich and the poor, Democrats and Republicans. Almost everyone is both a maker and a taker. …

On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives. An individual typically had received two direct social benefits in the form of checks, goods or services paid for by government, like Social Security or unemployment insurance. Most had also benefited from three policies in which government’s role was “submerged,” meaning that it was channeled through the tax code or private organizations, like the home mortgage-interest deduction and the tax-free status of the employer contribution to employees’ health insurance. The design of these policies camouflages the fact that they are social benefits, too, just like the direct benefits that help Americans pay for housing, health care, retirement and college.

By Suzanne Mettler and John Sides. Full article available here:

What presidential debates do and do not measure


Those of us who grew up with debating as an essential part of our high school curriculum recognize that debates don’t measure leadership skills. They measure the ability to think quickly and speak coherently. The more prepared and articulate the speaker, with honed theatrical skills (in terms of eye contact, sincerity and, when appropriate, gestures and humor), the more likely he emerges the victor. It does not matter whether a debater presents the better argument — or, more important, has the leadership ability outside the debate forum to carry out his argument.

The situation becomes more serious in presidential debates, as reflected by polls that suggest likability and good acting, and egregious slips of the tongue, matter to voters in deciding the winner. Of course, the real litmus test of leadership has little to do with such traits and gaffes. Leadership, whether in private or public activities, includes negotiating skills, having a vision and the ability to carry it out, and other characteristics that result in a record that can be evaluated.

From Thomas DiBacco. Full article here:,0,7410000.story


My two cents on Romney’s “47%” comments

  • It’s not unusual for politicians to say stuff like this to private audiences – especially of wealthy donors. It’s fairly regular to “tell them what they want to hear.” That being said, Romney ought to have thought things through a little bit better before saying them.
  • A lot of what Romney said was empirically false. He fundamentally mischaracterized who these “47%” are.
  • Based on evidence from other interviews and biographies, I don’t think that, in his heart of hearts, Romney really believes everything he said at that fundraiser. I tend to agree with columnist David Brooks who wrote: “Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater.” However, it does make it harder for those who see Romney as a “kind, decent man” to continue to defend that position when he says things like that.
  • I don’t see this drastically changing the polls or election much. The effect of so-called “gaffes” is overrated in the popular political media. See: But maybe not! We’ll have to see the polls a week from now and see if anything actually comes of this.
  • Indignant Democrats should remember just a few years ago that Obama said something stupid at a liberal fundraiser about “bitter” voters who “cling to guns or religion” when the economy is in poor shape. There’s a good argument that there are some qualitatively important differences between Obama’s “gaffe” and Romney’s “gaffe,” but ultimately, Romney is not the only presidential candidate who wishes he could retract comments made at a private fundraiser.



Pew: Two-thirds say presidential debates influence their vote

Two-thirds (67%) of those who voted in the 2008 election said the debates between Barack Obama and John McCain were very or somewhat helpful in deciding which candidate to vote for, according to the Pew Research Center’s quadrennial post-election survey. (About three-in-ten (28%) said they were “very helpful” and 39% said they were “somewhat helpful.”)

Of course debates are “helpful” in deciding who to vote for. My only criticism of Pew’s report is the headline: “67% – Most Say Presidential Debates Influence Their Vote” which implies that debates are the determining factor for two-thirds of America’s voters.

As I’ve written previously, debates are incredibly influential, but not in the way that most people tend to assume. Debates 1) provide information about candidate platforms and policy positions, 2) provide insights into the candidates’ temperaments and personalities, and 3) help us imagine how they might perform under high-pressure situations. Most of the time, though, those who watch presidential debates have already made up their mind and want to cheer for their favored candidate. While it’s true that two-thirds of voters are influenced by presidential debates, there are few who would say that they decided who to vote for solely based on what they observed in the debates, or that changed their minds as a result of an answer that a candidate happened to give.

For more information, see here:

Random sampler

Expect more hyper-polarization in the next Congress

President Obama recently opined that there will be less polarization in Congress after his (predicted) re-election this fall. In this case, I’m inclined to disagree with the President’s assessment. If anything, polarization will likely get worse:

However, our research suggests that polarization — that is, the distance between the means of the Republican and Democratic Party means — will continue to worsen in the 113th Senate. … [W]e compare the predicted ideological distributions of the 113th Senate with those of the current, 112th Senate. In all three scenarios, the polarization measure (the distance between the Democratic and Republican means) is higher in the 113th Senate. The jump in polarization is not huge, but these results do suggest that the next Senate is not likely to be any more productive than the current Senate and will instead be somewhat more gridlocked.

Two interpretations of the Romney post-convention polling bounce

By now it has become apparent that the Romney campaign did indeed receive a post-convention bounce in the polls, somewhere in the range of 2-3%. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are two distinct schools of thought emerging as to how we should interpret the size of that bounce:

The first conclusion is that the bounce is low, especially compared to historical patterns. Nate Silver at 538 explains

If we take Mr. Romney’s bounce to be two and a half points, it would be the third-smallest for a challenger since 1968, behind John Kerry in 2004 (roughly one point) and Mr. Obama in 2008 (about two). By contrast, the average bounce for the challenger since 1968 is around eleven points.

In a separate analysis, he argued that we should expect to see a bounce of about 4% coming out of the GOP convention, and a smaller bounce should be interpreted as a warning sign to Romney’s prospects this fall. 

In contrast, the second conclusion is summarized nicely by Jonathan Bernstein at the Washington Post: 

In other words, regardless of the quality of the convention, Clinton was poised for a large bounce because lots and lots of people who “should” have been Democratic voters in 1992 – weak Democrats, a fair number of pure independents, and perhaps even a decent number of solid Democrats – were not with him when the convention started. And what conventions do well is to convert those “should” voters into solid voters.

That’s why no one expected a big bounce for Romney this time, and that’s why it’s unlikely he would have had one even if the Republicans had put on the best show ever. There just wasn’t very much low-hanging fruit; Romney had basically consolidated the Republican vote by early spring.

So basically, Romney didn’t get a large bounce because he had long ago done most of what the bounce does.

Nate Silver also points out that the smallest convention bumps have all occurred in the last three elections (2004, 2008, and now 2012). So, he concludes, perhaps an extremely small convention bounce is now the “new normal” in an era of hyper-partisanship where most people have already made up their minds by the time the conventions roll around.