Squeaky bum time

October 16, 2012

On the eve of the second debate, and with at least one poll (Gallup’s) showing Romney up to 50 per cent (when did that happen?! Oh yeah, then…) the ever excellent Nate Silver has this balanced and evidence-based analysis of the typical/variable impact of debates on polls and final election results. Nate closes by reminding us that round two is just as crucial as round one. Given Obama’s dreary showing on first go it’s possible to view this as both a blessing and a curse. Personally I’m tempted to turn my ‘phone off and hide under the duvet.

There is no evidence, incidentally, that the second presidential debate is any less important than the first one. On average, it has moved the polls by 2.3 percentage points in one direction or another — almost exactly the same as after the first debate, which moved them by 2.4 percentage points on average.


Romney’s best hope of debate victory: go underdog?

October 3, 2012

Interesting this: the Huffington Post has been combing the archives, analysing Mitt Romney’s performance in the series of five debates in 2002 that acted as (or perhaps more accurately coincided with) a turnaround in his fortunes in the battle with Shannon O’Brien for the Massachusetts governorship. Here’s O’Brien herself on the deciding factor; worth watching out for whether Romney attempts a similar underdog strategy in the debates starting today, and whether Obama can avoid falling into the same kind of ‘aggressor’ trap.

Romney, she said, had adopted a rope-a-dope strategy, playing tentative through much of the debates before finally punching back at a critical moment. “They wanted me to be tough,” she said. “That was a strategy to get me into a conflict. I took the bait. I kept going at him. I don’t think that helped me.”

It was a bit of political skill from her opponent that neither she or her advisers had expected. “I think [Obama] has to be careful being too negative, too nasty,” she said. “He has to be very matter of fact.”

You snooze you lose?

September 26, 2012

The vast majority of people writing about US politics – any politics, arguably – have little or no clue as to what’s really going on ‘behind the scenes’, but that doesn’t stop them putting pen to paper. And at times of apparently momentous change, for example the recent and seemingly stubborn shift towards the Dems, the bollocks multiplies. Levels of interest rise, insight doesn’t.

A case in point: Arianna Huffington’s blog post last week entitled Is Sleep Deprivation the Reason the Romney Campaign is Blowing It? It’s hard to know where to begin: this isn’t a light, humorous piece, but a fairly detailed analysis of Romney’s mis-steps, arriving at the coup de grace…

So what is behind all these bad decisions? Here’s my theory: not enough sleep. And I have evidence (at least one piece)! While I was at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, a well-sourced journalist told me that senior Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom sleeps only three or four hours with his devices beside him, then wakes and checks his email, sends out replies, and then gets another hour of sleep. Or not. If Fehrnstrom’s habits are at all indicative of the Romney campaign operation at large, then voila — mystery solved!

And what, Obama’s senior people are taking regular catnaps? Sleep deprivation and politics go hand-in-hand, and whilst today’s neverending news cycle means things may’ve gotten worse, at some level it was ever thus. In his biography of LBJ Robert Dallek recounts how Johnson would work such long hours on the campaign trail he would have to be literally propped up at parties in the evening, able to barely raise a hand to greet wellwishers.

Little sleep is one thing, no sleep another matter entirely, however. One man with real access to a presidential campaign – unlike Arianna – is Jay Root, who this weekend revealed that Romney’s onetime challenger Governor Rick Perry did, in fact, have lack of sleep at least partially to blame for his botched showing. Following a couple of truly disastrous debates, the medics were called in…

After conducting overnight tests on Perry, they produced a rather startling diagnosis: He had sleep apnea, and it had gone undetected for years, probably decades. The ailment, which affects one in 10 men worldwide and becomes more common as people age, causes loud snoring and temporary lapses in breathing that disrupt normal sleep.

So when truth can be stranger than fiction, the problem we seem to be left with is which bollocks to believe?

Romney’s dad amongst the 47 per cent

September 19, 2012

Beautiful, rather touching irony this: as polls show swing states slipping away from the Republican challenger after he dismissed almost half the country as scroungers, a video of Mitt’s mum (mom, sorry) being interviewed in 1962, confirming both that the surreal practice of wives stumping on behalf of their politician husbands is as old as the hills, and that Romney Senior was ‘on relief, welfare relief, for the first years of his life’.

Wishful thinking, or will Obama really benefit from a global leftward trend?

September 17, 2012

In amidst news of infighting amongst members of Team Romney and a shift of that campaign (from ‘focused but ultimately ineffective’ to ‘unfocused’) I find it important to bear in mind the old rule of thumb: campaigns are rarely going as badly or as well as it seems.

And yet… goodness it’s tempting. Tempting to believe that the challenge facing Romney isn’t just a mad professor chief of staff doing three jobs or a Hollywood director who refused to be scripted. Tempting to think that the Republicans are running against the tide. That the President’s narrow lead has structural causes.

Especially when respected political commentators like E. J. Dionne (Jr.) suggest the flow may be a global one:

The movement in the presidential race reflects a broader trend visible in many nations. In the immediate wake of the financial crisis, electorates moved not toward parties of the left, which is what one might expect during a crisis of capitalism, but toward the right. Conservative-leaning parties won a long list of national elections in 2009 and 2010, including the Republicans’ midterm triumph here.

Since then, thinks Dionne, the centre-left has mounted a comeback, resulting in Hollande winning and Miliband leading. Can it be true that voters the world over eventually always come back to the middle of the road?

Paul Ryan for VP: a storm in a tea (party) cup

August 15, 2012

Mitt Romney’s appointment of Tea Party darling, congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate has provided a welcome boost for the commentariat who were finding the war of attrition between the Obama and Romney camps increasingly dull. Whatever the general opinion on the merits of the choice, the firm consensus is that we’re in for a lot more fun now that we have, essentially, Sarah Palin with brains on the GOP ticket. Even if the evidence gives little indication that the name of the man below the name of the man-who-would-be-president will have any real impact whatsoever.

If the hacks are to be believed, excitement will be confined to the Republican base and will quickly turn to dismay as Romney finds himself increasingly shackled to Ryan’s extreme views (the ever-authoritative Nate Silver on the NYT FiveThirtyEight blog has Ryan as the most conservative GOP congressman to have been picked for VP since at least 1900: closest to Michele Bachmann in political hue). And a POLITICO survey of Republican insiders suggests they’ve basically thrown in the towel, taking a stance best summed up as ‘I love Paul Ryan but…’.

Over at openDemocracy, Magnus Nome echoes many of the same criticisms of the decision, but suggests we may be giving Romney too little credit:

Something here that should worry Obama: Romney has plenty of experience taking calculated risks, is obsessed with thorough research and has become very rich based on these skills. Wise or not, it’s not a Hail Mary pass like McCain’s.

So let’s take Mr Nome up on this invitation to look, as we are led to suppose Mitt may’ve done, at the evidence about Ryan’s likely impact. Three nuggets in particular caught my eye:

1. Voters don’t yet know how extreme Ryan’s views are. Whilst he has relatively high levels of name recognition for a VP candidate, polls suggest few know about his ‘famous’ budget reform proposals or asked-for cuts to Medicare. So as Molly Ball writes in The Atlantic, this means Democrats and Republicans have the chance to fight to define him in the minds of voters (a battle that’s already well underway, naturally).

2. Initial reaction to Ryan as VP is less positive than normal. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last Sunday shows that whilst more Republicans are excited about Ryan than were about Palin, the choice has received a more negative reaction from the electorate as a whole than any VP-pick since Dan Quayle in 1988. So Ryan, and the Romney campaign as a whole, have more ground to make up.

3. It’s all about the top of the ticket. When all is said and done, this will probably be a storm in the Tea Party’s cup. As Associated Press writer Josh Lederman points out in this piece in the Washington Post, a string of nominated vice presidents including Al Gore, Dick Cheney and John Edwards seemed like game-changers at the time they were announced, but almost certainly didn’t have a big impact on the outcome. And indeed the Gallup poll bears this out: just as in every election back to 1988, roughly two-thirds of people say the man or woman on the bottom of the ticket will have no effect on their vote.

Americans say: enough God (in politics)

March 27, 2012

The Republican race has been over since Super Tuesday, really. Santorum’s successes in the South artificially prolonged the sense that somehow he might sneak it.

So now we’re into what The Post’s Chris Cillizza cheerfully calls the ‘walking dead’ phase of the campaign, recalling memories of Hilary’s limp to the finish line in 2008.

Pointing to Santorum’s angry defence of his equally angry ‘Romney is the worst Republican in the country’ speech, Chris says ‘This is how primary campaigns end, not with a bang but with a wimper. Or, more accurately, a whine.’

Standing back from the fray, what deeper trends did the GOP battle reveal? One that caught my eye – reported in the NYT yesterday – centres on the role of religion in politics which ‘regular readers’ (hello mum) will know to be a topic of ongoing (if not eternal, ho ho) fascination to me.

The Times piece – primarily about the fact that Santorum did peculiarly badly amongst Catholics (who, it turns out, probably unsurprisingly on reflection, do not vote as one bloc) – included coverage of a study by the Pew Research Center that suggests a big increase over the last decade in the proportion of US voters who think there’s too much religion in politics.

The nationally representative poll of 1500 Americans found that about two-fifths (38 per cent) felt there was ‘too much’ by way of ‘open expressions of religious faith and prayer by politicians’, more than a threefold increase since the question was first asked by the Pew Center in 2001 (when 12 per cent agreed there was ‘too much’ religion on display amongst politicians).

This would seem to explain why Romney’s Mormonism – which every bugger thought would be a major issue for Republican voters – simply wasn’t a big deal (apart from for loony Evangelicals, of course).

It will be interesting to track whether the changing demographics of the States – I’m thinking in particular here the rapidly increasing size of the Latino population – will have any bearing on the downward trend in Americans’ willingness to tolerate God in politics.

But for now… onto the big race.

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