Thursday, November 06, 2008

North Carolina called for Obama

Assuming that these projections hold up, this is a Big Deal ... and one more sign of a real political watershed. Eric Kleefeld of TPM reports:
Barack Obama has won North Carolina, according to projections from NBC News, the New York Times and the Associated Press, with Obama leading by 14,000 votes out of over 4.2 million cast.

Not everyone has called the race yet, but assuming Obama's apparent win here holds up it would be a major watershed event.

This would be the first time that North Carolina has voted Democratic since Jimmy Carter was the South's favorite son in 1976. Beyond that, we apparently now have the state that sent Jesse Helms to the Senate for 30 years, and re-elected him to his final term just 12 years ago, voting for an African-American candidate for president.
--Jeff Weintraub

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama's Victory Speech

Obama marked his election victory with another of his great, inspiring speeches (with Lincolnian echoes). Commentary will come later, but for the moment, those of you who haven't yet seen or heard Obama's victory speech can watch it HERE

A transcript of Obama's speech is HERE.

=> I agree with Mark Kleiman:
Baruch atah ha-shem eloheinu, melech ha-olam, shehechayunu, v'kimanu, v'higianu la'zman hazeh.

This is the Hebrew prayer of thanks for having been allowed to live to see something new. (And yes, Hebrew "baruch" is cognate with Arabic/Swahili "barack": both mean "blessed.")
Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

The Mac is Back

John McCain's concession speech last night was impressively gracious, eloquent, visibly heartfelt, and (how else can one put it?) genuinely patriotic. This sounded like the John McCain whom many had come to admire over the years (as opposed to the John McCain who, over the past several months, has increasingly sounded like a jerk).

For those of you who didn't hear McCain's concession speech last night, I recommend listening to it now. It was an honorable and valuable end to a campaign that (honesty compels me to add) deserved to lose.

--Jeff Weintraub

President Obama

When Gerald Ford took over as President in 1974, after Nixon's resignation ended the Watergate/impeachment crisis, he announced that "our long national nightmare is over." I think that captures the present moment very well ... but now that the next morning has arrived, we will have to deal with a long national hangover. There's still a little time to celebrate, though.

As I'm sure all of you know already, Barack Obama has decisively won the Presidential election. There is still some final vote-counting going on in a few states--North Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri--but the results there will affect only the scale of victory.

Of course, this is a genuinely historic event in many respects. An Associated Press story this morning nicely sums up a lot of the key points:
His name etched in history as America's first black president-elect, Barack Obama turned Wednesday from the jubilation of victory to the sobering challenge of leading a nation worried about economic crisis, two unfinished wars and global uncertainty. [....]

With most U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52.3 percent for Obama and 46.4 percent for McCain. But the count in the Electoral College was lopsided — 349 to 147 in Obama's favor as of early Wednesday, with three states still to be decided. Those were North Carolina, Georgia and Missouri. [....]

Democrats expanded their majority in both houses of Congress.

In the Senate, Democrats ousted Republicans Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and John Sununu of New Hampshire and captured seats held by retiring GOP senators in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado. Still, the GOP blocked a complete rout, holding the Kentucky seat of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Minnesota seat of Norm Coleman, who had been challenged by Democrat Al Franken, and a Mississippi seat once held by Trent Lott — three top Democratic targets. [JW: Actually, the outcome in the Minnesota Senate race is still uncertain.]

In the House, with fewer than a dozen races still undecided, Democrats captured Republican-held seats in the Northeast, South and West and were on a path to pick up as many as 20 seats. [....]

Almost six in 10 women supported Obama nationwide, while men leaned his way by a narrow margin, according to interviews with voters. Just over half of whites supported McCain, giving him a slim advantage in a group that Bush carried overwhelmingly in 2004.

The results of the AP survey were based on a preliminary partial sample of nearly 10,000 voters in Election Day polls and in telephone interviews over the past week for early voters.

In terms of turnout, America voted in record numbers. It looks like 136.6 million Americans will have voted for president this election, based on 88 percent of the country's precincts tallied and projections for absentee ballots, said Michael McDonald of George Mason University. Using his methods, that would give 2008 a 64.1 percent turnout rate.

"That would be the highest turnout rate that we've seen since 1908," which was 65.7 percent, McDonald said early Wednesday.
For more detailed results, I refer you again to the Election Night 2008 Map in the right-hand column at TPM.

=> This is a wonderful and inspiring outcome, and its sweeping repudiation of the disastrous Republican ascendancy was both deserved and overdue. but now the really difficult part starts ... for Obama, and for the rest of us.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Game over?

Not by a long shot. However, exit polls from some of the East Coast battleground states are coming in, and they look good for Obama (and bad for McCain).

Of course, exit polls aren't always reliable (and in 2004, as we all remember, something funny happened between the exit polls and the final vote-count). But the following items, reported by Ben Smith of Politico, do seem like interesting straws in the wind:
ABC calls Pennsylvania and New Hampshire for Obama, based on the exit polls; CNN is waiting to project.

If ABC is right, that's more or less the ballgame. Without those two states, the scenarios for McCain become increasingly exotic: He needs to win in Western states he's losing, or he needs to steal a state in the upper Midwest.
That's a big "if" at the beginning of the second paragraph. It really has looked for weeks as though the McCain campaign's effort to capture Pennsylvania was based on wishful thinking (or desperation) more than anything else, so I will be surprised if Obama doesn't carry Pennsylvania in the end. New Hampshire would be a more interesting (though hardly astonishing) result.

The big East Coast battleground state from which the exit polls might really be (more or less) definitive would be Virginia. If McCain loses Virginia, and especially if he seems to be losing it decisively, then I think one really could conclude that his chances of getting elected are hopeless.

I don't think there is any strong evidence available yet on which way Virginia will go. But a post on the WSJ blog does mention an interesting tidbit that may provide some indirect signs:
And while Virginia voters in 2004 were more Republican than Democratic, 39% to 35%, this year Democrats outnumber Republicans at the polls, 41% to 32% – a 13-point swing
I guess within a few hours we'll know better what that means.

--Jeff Weintraub

More details from the election-eve NBC/WSJ poll

One final look at the pre-election polls, which will very soon be overtaken by history. It may be illuminating to refer back to them in retrospect.

I referred in a previous post to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed Obama and McCain essentially tied back in early September and now show Obama with a lead of 8 percentage points.

Some of the more specific results are given below. As a start, I would note these findings about the Palin Effect:
Believe Palin is qualified? 55% no, 40% yes

Palin favorables: 38% positive, 47% negative.
Palin's initial feel-good aura dissipated pretty quickly, and there is every reason to believe that she turned out to be a major liability for McCain's campaign.

And please note which of the prominent issues favors McCain ... and which do not:
On issues: Obama +39 on health care, +21 on economy, +14 on taxes. McCain +5 on Iraq.
If it were up to me, I would fiddle with some of those spreads. But, overall, these figures might lead us to conclude that the voters aren't so dumb. (So much for Joe the Plumber.)

19% of respondents said that Powell's endorsement made them "more likely to vote for Obama" (vs. 4% "less inclined"). This strikes me as a big deal.

And 52% of Obama's supporters described themselves as "excited" by his candidacy, vs. 26% of McCain's. I suspect that, in retrospect, that will turn out to have been one of the crucial factors of this whole campaign.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub
Time On-Line (The Page)
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
More from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll
By Mark Halperin

Overall: Obama 52, McCain 42.

Believe Palin is qualified? 55% no, 40% yes

Palin favorables: 38% positive, 47% negative.

Concerned McCain will continue Bush policies: 23%

Concerned Obama is too inexperienced: 23%

Race an important factor? 8% yes. Of those: 4% less likely to vote for Obama, 2% more likely.

Age an important factor? 22% yes. Of those: 18% less likely to vote for McCain.

Powell endorsement's impact: 77% no difference, 19% more inclined to vote for Obama, 4% less inclined.

On issues: Obama +39 on health care, +21 on economy, +14 on taxes. McCain +5 on Iraq.

On traits: Obama +30 on hope and optimism, +20 on right temperment. McCain +4 on stronger leader.

Obama's voter enthusiasm: excited 52%, satisfied 33%

McCain's voter enthusiasm: excited 26%, satisfied 34%

A few more election projections, polls, & reflections

Here is a nicely constructed Electoral College Map from the polling meta-analysts at the Princeton Election Consortium, to which I was alerted by my colleague Isaac Martin. (Clicking on the map will expand it.)

I notice that they have predicted an Obama win in Florida, whereas other projections are still treating that state as too close to call. But otherwise the overall picture accords pretty closely with others I've been seeing.

=> And Paul Krugman, on his NYTimes, presents the graph tracking their averages of national polls over the past year and offers some (admittedly premature) retrospective reflections. (Click on the graph for an expanded view.)
Time and chance

It was Lehman wot did it

There will be endless bloviating over the significance of today’s results; I plan to do some bloviating myself. But we shouldn’t ignore the importance of chance events, or at least the chance timing of events. Without 9/11, what would have become of George W. Bush? My guess is that he would have lost Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004. And what would have happened if Lehman had waited until November to blow up? Would smear-and-fear have worked?

I think Krugman is obviously right that the onset of the economic crisis(quite appropriately) dealt a major blow to the McCain campaign--and, we might add, to the Republicans in general. McCain's response to the crisis, which helped convince a lot of voters that he was clueless, erratic, and gimmick-prone when it came to critical economic issues, only made matters worse for him. And the timing made a big difference, too. If the crisis had waited until November to blow up, which was no doubt a matter of luck more than anything else, then its political impact would have been quite different.

On the other hand, as long as we're speculating, I'm not sure that this one factor was necessarily decisive. My own (non-expert) impression is that McCain's campaign began to go off the rails by mid-September, beginning with the selection of Sarah Palin as his running-mate (a transparently cynical gambit that seems to have backfired in a big way); the more general strategic decision to focus on mobilizing the troglodyte wing of the Republican Party (the so-called "base"), which wound up alienating many moderate and independent voters and even some long-time McCain admirers; the McCain campaign's gratuitous and self-defeating post-convention offensive aimed at demonizing and intimidating the news media, who had previously been fairly well-disposed to McCain and inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt; and the decision to gamble everything on what what Krugman correctly calls a "fear-and-smear" campaign against Obama, in the process sacrificing the considerable asset of McCain's reputation for honesty and integrity, which also seems to have backfired. Even if the economic crisis hadn't broken before the election, McCain could still have lost--after all, his campaign decided they needed some bold gambles because he was trailing Obama all through the summer, even though both campaigns were mostly treading water--though perhaps more narrowly than he seems likely to lose today.

On the third hand (if there is such a thing), all these factors interact, and the onset of the economic crisis may well have increased the negative impact of some of the elements I've just mentioned--in the face of potential economic cataclysm, a lot of the other stuff probably sounded like irrelevant background noise to many voters, and the increasingly desperate tone of the McCain campaign probably reduced its credibility even on non-economic issues. Without that context, maybe "fear-and-smear" would have worked more effectively? So maybe Krugman is right after all to say that "It was Lehman wot did it."

At all events, there's no question that luck and timing play a big role in these matters--and that timing was especially critical in this case. Napoleon used to say that the most important quality needed by a general was that he should be lucky. By that standard, Obama's political record suggests that he qualifies very strongly, whereas McCain has crapped out.

=> If the McCain/Palin ticket should somehow win today, then all this speculation will look pretty silly ... but that will be the least of our problems.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

This Is It

Today the endless campaign finally culminates in a decisive showdown. Actually, in some states significant proportions of the electorate have already cast their ballots in early voting (more than 29 million of them), but tonight we will get to find out the overall results--assuming, of course, that we don't wind up with major post-election litigation and a return trip to the Supreme Court.

One always has to preface any mention of polls with the caveat that their results are far from consistent, open to different plausible interpretations, and shaped by various empirical and statistical assumptions that may prove to be wildly misleading. But as far as I can tell, all signs continue to point to a nation-wide electoral catastrophe for the Republicans in today's voting.

The website, whose analyses this year have seemed especially sophisticated and reliable, predicts today that Obama will win the national popular vote by about 6 percentage points and, more significantly, will get an Electoral College majority of 349-189. (For more details, including summaries of the national- and state-level polls on which this analysis is based, see HERE.)
This race appears to have stabilized as of about the time of the second debate in Nashville, Tennessee on October 8th. Since that time, Obama has maintained a national lead of between 6 and 8 points, with little discernible momentum for either candidate. Just as noteworthy is the fact that the number of undecided voters is now very small, representing not much more than 2-3 percent of the electorate. Undecided voters who committed over the past several weeks appear to have broken roughly equally between the two candidates. [....]

Nor does McCain appear to have much chance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote; in fact, our model thinks that Obama is slightly more likely to do so. McCain diverted many of his resources to Pennsylvania, a state where he narrowed Obama's margins somewhat, but which our model concludes that Obama is now virtually certain to win. This may have allowed Obama to consolidate his margins in other battleground states, particularly Western states like Colorado and Nevada to which McCain has devoted little recent attention.
The election-eve average of major national polls by the heavyweight (Republican-leaning) political website RealClearPolitics shows Obama leading by 52.1%-44.5%--and it should also be noted that not a single major poll shows McCain leading, though some of the results are within the statistical margin of error. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed McCain essentially tied with Obama in early September (47% Obama vs. 46% McCain), now shows Obama ahead by 51%-43%.

It has been clear for a while that the Republicans would lose seats in the Senate and House races, and the only question is how badly they will do. The Democrats now control 51 Senate seats (if one includes Joe Lieberman), and there is an outside chance that they might get a filibuster-proof 60 seats, but most projections I've seen suggest they will probably wind up with 58 or 59 seats at the outside. That would still represent a dramatic victory, and it could well include the defeat of some very high-profile Republican Senators (like Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina--and possibly even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, though he looks likely to squeak through).

In the House of Representatives, where the Democrats presently hold a 35-seat advantage, they could well pick up another 25 seats or so.

=> As Nate Silver at properly cautions:
Any forecasting system is only as good as its inputs, and so if the polls are systematically wrong, our projection is subject to error as well.
A lot will depend, for example, on how many of the young and newly-registered voters who have been telling pollsters they favor Obama actually turn out to vote. (The first reports suggest that turnout has been heavy across the country today.)

Republican efforts at vote suppression and the disenfranchisement of potentially Democratic voters have been especially active this year (linked to an artificial hysteria about alleged voter-fraud threats that showcased a heavily orchestrated and totally cynical propaganda campaign to demonize the community-organizing group ACORN, including an embarrassingly deranged claim by John McCain himself--and I say deranged advisedly, since describing it as just transparently absurd, cynically dishonest, and ludicrously exaggerated would be misleadingly euphemistic--that ACORNis now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history ... maybe destroying the fabric of democracy”). But so far, according to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, Republican voter-suppression gambits have been getting countered fairly effectively. Let's hope for the best.

=> Meanwhile, a collaboration between TPM and Google has produced a terrific Election Night 2008 Map to which you can go this evening to get steadily-updated results from both the Presidential election and various state elections. (Have a look--it's in the upper right-hand corner of the TPM website.)

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

No on H8 Tuesday (via Gershon Shafir)

[Click on the photos to see them full-size.]

This fall I am a visiting faculty member at the University of California in San Diego, which puts me in California for Election Day 2008.

I voted by absentee ballot myself, but people who vote here have to confront the notoriously lengthy California ballot, which always includes an endless list of referendum initiatives in addition to the national, state, and local elections. This situation is a long-term result of well-intentioned good-government reforms a century ago. The idea was to allow ordinary citizens to break through the corrupt tangle of crooked or unresponsive party machines and influential special interests (including big corporations, organized criminals, and the like) through the exercise of direct democracy.

Like many well-intentioned ideas, in practice this one has fallen victim to the law of unintended and perverse consequences. Everyone can point to specific Propositions they find valuable (this time around, for example, Proposition 2 mandates humane living conditions for farm animals, and the fact that it looks likely to pass by a comfortable margin strikes me as a victory for human decency). But often they just provide new vehicles for well-funded special interests to use deceptive ballot measures to slip their agendas into law; the unchecked profusion of Propositions has rendered that whole part of the ballot incomprehensible to many voters; and the cumulative overall result of all the disconnected single-issue measures passed by referendum has contributed significantly to the startlingly dysfunctional aspects of California's state government.

But be that as it may ...

=> One of the California referendum initiatives that has attracted the most national (and international) attention is Proposition 8. In May 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the California Constitution. Proposition 8 aims to overturn that right by directly enacting an amendment to the state constitution. It was originally submitted for the ballot as the "California Marriage Protection Act," but California Attorney General Jerry Brown (remember him?) argued--correctly, in my view--that this title was perversely misleading and changed it to something more straightforward and accurate: "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry".

There have been extensive TV ad campaigns on both sides. Polls have generally shown more voters opposing Proposition 8 than supporting it, but the gap narrowed rapidly in September and early October, and now the outcome is unpredictable. Either victory or defeat for Proposition 8 is going to affect a lot of people directly and send a powerful national message, so I hope it is solidly defeated.

=> My friend Gershon Shafir sent me two photographs of pro- and anti-Proposition 8 demonstrators in his neighborhood (Rancho Peñasquitos in northern San Diego) and suggested I post them. One person in the first picture, who looks like a counter-demonstrator, apparently regards supporters of this measure as bigots on parade. Well, passions run high in this matter--even, as Gershon says, "in quiet Rancho Peñasquitos"--and appropriately so. At least people aren't shooting each other.

Yours for equal rights,
Jeff Weintraub