Friday, August 31, 2012

Don't confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up

Buzz and I have been watching the GOP convention in Tampa, and we've been following the campaign ads.  It appears that the facts are not going to get in the way of the Romney-Ryan campaign.

"We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said recently at a panel organized by ABC News.

We built it

Republicans were so excited when Obama explained that businesses in the United States used the government, by the way of infrastructure, public schools, tax policy, government grants, and the like, to create and build their businesses.  When Obama said, "You didn't build that," Republicans pounced.  They made the "you didn't build that" a cornerstone of their campaign. (See Obama "You didn't build that" speech in context.

All of a sudden, Obama's words became an attack on capitalism.  Instead of accepting the truism of Obama's words for what they were, Republicans said Obama was saying the government built businesses.

Mitt Romney and Republican Super PACs produced and aired ads with irate and angry business people explaining how they built their small businesses on their own, without the help of the damn government.  The hypocrisy of their statements became readily apparent.

The star of one of the early ads admitted that he owed a lot of his success to a public school teacher who inspired him, the government created internet, and the roads and highways built by the government.  Upon further reflection and scrutiny, other "self-made" businessmen from the slew of  the  "We Built It" commercials, it became apparent that many of this "self-made" business owners relied heavily on favorable tax policy, government contracts, government loans, and our government built infrastructure.

Of course, when asked for further clarification, many Republicans said, "well that stuff was paid for by our taxes."  Well, duh, that's obvious.  Taxes pay for government projects and people pay taxes.  That argument falls flat when it comes to government policy.

Republicans have lashed out at infrastructure spending for years.  The Republicans of today are the first in line to oppose any and all government spending, excepting defense spending, and throughout the past 75 years, Republicans have generally opposed all public works projects and any spending on things like public education.

Welfare Queens 

The other big lie being propagated by the GOP is that President Obama has gutted the welfare work requirement. Romney has put out a multimillion dollar ad campaign to hammer this allegation home. Like the Ronald Reagan "welfare queen" story, to borrow from REO Speedwagon, "talk is cheap when the story is good."

It is quite ironic that at a convention where keynote speaker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Republicans don't rely on polls to stake out their positions and policy, that the Romney-Ryan people are doing just that.

The "Obama gutted the work requirement for welfare" line polled very well with focus groups, particularly with White working class voters.  The fact that Obama did not waive the work requirement is irrelevant to the GOP argument.  After all, talk is cheap when the story is good.

The well-respected Annenberg Public Policy Center, a non-partisan that fact checks political claims, said this about the Romney ad.

A Mitt Romney TV ad claims the Obama administration has adopted “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” The plan does neither of those things.
  • Work requirements are not simply being “dropped.” States may now change the requirements — revising, adding or eliminating them — as part of a federally approved state-specific plan to increase job placement.
  • And it won’t “gut” the 1996 law to ease the requirement. Benefits still won’t be paid beyond an allotted time, whether the recipient is working or not.
Annenberg is not the only fact checking group that has determined Romney's welfare charges to be absolutely false, but none of this has stopped Romney from pushing his fictitious claim.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Persuadables

Buzz and I have come to a saddening conclusion.  This year's Presidential election will be decided by people who really don't give a damn about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Unlike Buzz, me, and all of our readers, the people who will decide this election just aren't engaged in politics now or probably ever. 

Buzz begins his day by pouring over all the latest polls and punching that data into the Univac 3000, checking for subtle changes which might give him even the smallest insight into electoral trends.   He then takes this material and produces a multitude of charts, diagrams, and graphs to supplement the OVC Daily Briefing memo.  All of this is presented at the morning staff meeting.

I begin my day by checking the latest WNBA news and setting my lineup for my WNBA Fantasy Basketball team.  I don't mean to brag, but I've won the league seven years in a row, but I digress.

Poll after poll in the last few months have consistently shown two things - each candidate has a floor percentage of which they seldom, if ever drop below, and a ceiling, of which they never rise above.  Most changes in the individual polls can be attributed to statistical sampling variations.  In other words, poll results vary greatly depending on who you sample.

The trick to good polling is to tailor your sample to represent the voting public as a whole.  If you have too many Democrats in your sample, your poll win inflate Democratic numbers, and vice versa if you include too many Republicans.  So what the pollsters do is massage the numbers to reflect past voting trends and put forth a calculated guess as to how the raw data collected translates into the numbers they release in the poll.

Some polling outfits are run by Democrats or liberal leaning folks, and some are run by Republican or conservative folks.  These polls may favor the political leanings of the folks conducting them, or contrary to what would seem to be common sense, may tend to overcompensate for the pollsters' biases and lean in the opposite direction of the pollster. 

After all, pollsters do not make money from the general public on their polling, they make money by the candidates or organizations who commission the polls.  The more accurate the polling results are, the more chance the pollster has of getting work.

With all of this said, Buzz tells me that if we averaged out all of the polls, a sort of poll of the polls, we'd be able to minimize the individual prejudices and biases of the pollsters.  I told Buzz that RealClearPolitics has already done this.

The RCP average of polls is an excellent source of information, and believe it or not, it has been a very accurate predictor of election results over the past ten years.  RCP does include what the pollsters refer to as an outlier (a poll that seems to be out of whack with all the others,) but do to the averaging of all the recent polls, an outlier won't throw the numbers off that much.

Over the past few months, there has been very little variation in the numbers.  Obama's numbers have ebbed and flowed, as have Romney's. Neither has dropped below the middle to low forties, and neither has jumped above the mid to high forties. 

What this means is that both of the major party candidates are guaranteed to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 percent of the vote come November. The trick is getting at least 51 percent of the remainder.

These undecideds are what this election is all about.  They are referred to as the swing voters, but Buzz and I like to call them the Persuadables.  Whoever wins the majority of these voters will win the election.

This presents two issues as Buzz and I see it.  First, you gotta identify these voters, and number two, you gotta convince them that you deserve their vote. 

We'll talk more about how this works later.  Gotta get to the morning meeting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Leash Laws for Unicorns and the PA Voter ID law

May we suggest that the Pennsylvania legislature now tackle unicorn leash laws, since they have so adequately addressed non-existent voter impersonation in the Commonwealth. And, perhaps they can spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money looking for unicorns to leash.

The lack of empirical evidence of in person voter fraud didn't stop the Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature from passing a voter ID bill in March, so why should the lack of empirical proof of the existence of unicorns stop them from passing unicorn leash laws.

The Loch Ness Monster

Some may say this is an unfair comparison, but cases of in person voter fraud in Pennsylvania are just as rare as unicorns.  Study after study has shown that in-person voter fraud simply does not exist, but like the existence of unicorns and the Loch Ness monster, there are people out there who will swear on a stack of bibles that it does exist

All of this would be quite humorous if it didn't infringe on the right of over a million of Pennsylvania to vote, including almost 500,000 senior citizens, and one third of members of Pennsylvania's Voter Hall of Fame (those who have cast ballots in 50 consecutive general elections.) It is also quite disheartening that Judge Robert Simpson has failed to throw out this misguided law.

Voter Suppression

The PA voter ID law was passed for one reason and one reason only:  It was passed in an attempt to suppress Democratic votes.  Republican controlled legislatures across the country have been passing voter ID laws for the very same reason.  It is pure fantasy and illusion to believe that millions, thousands, hundreds, or even one illegal alien is or are trudging down to polling places to vote, of course that doesn't stop Buzz and I hearing that from our conservative friends.

Since when did it become acceptable and even fashionable to stop legal voters from voting.  If we turn one legitimate voter away from the polls because of some imagined in-person voter fraud, that is a tragedy.

Our simple solution

Here's a simple solution.  Get inexpensive digital cameras and issue them to every judge of election.  When a voter comes in to vote, take their picture and have them sign a simple affidavit attesting that they are who they say they are.  And for all those Draconian Republicans out there, make the penalty for falsifying the affidavit punishable by a mandatory ten years in jail.  Now you won't suppress any voter and you truly will solve non-existent in person voter ID fraud.

After all, think about it.  If someone really wanted to commit in person voter ID fraud, don't you think they'd have the ability to make a fake ID

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

You don't need no stinkin' tax returns

GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's tax return problem will be his downfall. His refusal to release no more than two years of tax returns is a politically unsustainable position, but his release of anything more will be political suicide.  He truly is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

This has become an issue, because Romney has made it an issue.  Republicans who jump to his defense and say this is not an important issue may be right, but it is an issue which could cost Romney millions of votes come November.  Democrats win either way.

The Democrats won't let this issue go gently into that sweet night

If Romney lasts through the election with only releasing two years of tax returns (actually one, for 2011, he released an estimate only) the Democrats won't let this issue die.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has it on good authority that Romney didn't pay any taxes for 10 years.  This isn't the first speculation, and it won't be the last.

Democrats will continue to ask "what's Romney hiding?"  Romney already has a transparency problem and questions about off-shore investments and over-seas bank accounts.  Not releasing tax returns only feeds the speculation.

The Democrats have a point.  What exactly is Mitt hiding?  Did he have years where he paid little or no federal income through liberal use which deductions?  Did he take advantage of over-seas' tax havens? Did he give millions to the Mormon church?  The list goes on and on and will continue to go on and on until he releases more returns.

 The Persuadables will be persuaded

The release or non release will never switch votes of those who have already made up their minds.  The hardcore Romney supporters are not going to jump ship in large numbers regardless of whether he releases or not.  The same goes for the hardcore Obama supporters.  The place where this makes a difference is among the still persuadable voters - that ten percent or so who have yet to make up their minds.

This ten percent can be swayed by a number of issues or non-issues, but Romney will never get the support of a decent percentage of these voters, because they will know Romney only as the guy who's hiding something.  Many of these unpersuadables already have a negative predisposition towards politicians.  They just don't trust any politician, and Romney's reluctance towards transparency only reinforces their distrust.

Romney and his people are well aware of this, but have made a calculation that whatever those tax returns show is far more damaging than not releasing them.  This brings up another issue, which does go to a more troubling concern. 

The tax issue has been raised before

Romney had to know that his tax returns would be an issue.  The tax return question was not first raised in the primaries, but it has been a bone of contention for his opponents since at least his 2002 run for Governor of Massachusetts. And, this isn't the first time Romney sought the Presidency.  He ran in 2008.

How does a guy who's been running for President for at least the last five years fail to clean up his tax returns and make them look really good?  If he had done this, he would be showcasing his tax returns and touting how he made a lot of money but gave a lot to non- controversial charities and paid his fair share of taxes.

If you are wealthy and take advantage of every tax deduction and tax loophole known to man, nobody cares and nobody will ever know.  But, if you are running for President in a major political party, even the most naive politician would have to know that the voters want to see your tax returns, especially if you are worth $250 million.

Romney's father released 12 years of returns when he ran in 1968

It is particularly ironic that Romney wouldn't have been keenly aware that wealthy candidates for President routinely release their tax returns for multiple years.  After all, Romney's father, the late George Romney, voluntarily released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for President in 1968.

The elder Romney, who was the former head of American Motors, said he released 12 years of tax returns, because one year could be a "fluke."  It is also ironic that the elder Romney's effective tax rate was over 30 percent, while Mitt's effective rate in the 2010 return and the 2011 estimate was under 15 percent.

All in all, as Buzz and I see it, those unpersuadables may not know how Romney stands on Russo/United States relations or job creation, but they will know that Romney is a rich guy who refuses to tell them how much he pays in taxes.  This alone is enough to persuade the unpersuadables that Romney is not their guy.