There probably won’t be an independent Presidential candidate

National Review hopefully touted a poll that showed 21% of the electorate would support a hypothetical third-party candidate.

Not so fast. As grassroots political consultant Chris Younce points out in a recent interview on some crummy little podcast, there are major logistical challenges to a candidate. It’s one reason why efforts to draft an independent ticket have failed so miserably.

But there’s another, bigger reason to take that poll with a grain of salt: There is no such thing as a “generic” independent candidate. As the survey shows, people across the board are dissatisfied with the parties’ nominees.

But each of the 997 survey respondents probably has their own idea of what that independent candidate might look like.

Any ticket that takes votes from Hillary Clinton is probably features a left-leaning candidate and siphons off disenchanted Bernie Sanders voters. Efforts to draft a “#NeverTrump” candidate have largely focused on Republicans who would give conservative base voters a place for this election.

In either case, once the “generic” independent becomes a real independent, those numbers will shift. An independent candidate will start out a lot lower than 21%.

You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and it’s getting to late to find another somebody.

He’s Trump! He’s Trump! He’s in their heads. (Sorry.)

Donald Trump is leading the pack? Not so fast. This week’s post at Communities Digital News does some critical analysis of those results that news media ought to be doing. The polls the news reports are citing aren’t looking in the right places, nor are they asking questions of the right people. They should know better than to project a front runner off of that but knowing better probably doesn’t help attract eyeballs.

In a just-recorded podcast episode with friend-of-the-program Matt Lewis (and some post-podcast discussions) he pointed out that there is a legitimate affinity for Trump. It is kind of nice to see a Republican who doesn’t walk on eggshells and apologize for his or her beliefs, which is something too many national GOP figures do. So there is something to Trump’s early support.

But is it anything more than name recognition? FiveThirtyEight doesn’t think so.

In reality, showing up to vote is much different from answering a telephone poll, especially in caucus states. It takes a lot of hard, specialized work. That’s why Trump’s fundraising will be interesting to watch, even if he doesn’t really need the money. For all his millions, fundraising shows an organizational discipline that can translate to other fields as well.

Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin 38-point polling advantage

That’s Hillary Clinton’s average lead among non-white voters over various Republican candidates in the head-to-head questions from the CNN/ORC poll released on Tuesday. But the 64-68% support range she hovers might not be enough. As discussed in this week’s post on Communities Digital News, Clinton is lagging behind President Obama’s 82%-16% edge among non-white voters during his re-election.

All the headlines yapped about the Republican field closing the gap on Clinton. That’s important psychologically, but we all knew the race would tighten. This a much bigger potential problem for Clinton.

The difference between where Clinton sits and Obama’s 2012 performance translates into Mitt Romney carrying Florida, Virginia, and Ohio – with a real shot at picking up either Nevada or Colorado for an Electoral College majority. Again, this doesn’t anticipate any minority votes moving from the blue column to the red column; those are only lost votes.

That’s a real big problem for Clinton, who will surely try to exploit police/community relations as a wedge issue.

Maybe Clinton still gets by with a little help from her friends. The NAACP will surely try to literally scare up black voters with images of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. The arbotion industry will try to do the same with women. Plus, there’s always fraud.

But the point is that she has to do something, because she isn’t inheriting the Obama coalition – at least, not in the numbers she needs.

The coming Republican bloodbath?

Stu Rothenberg has joined the chorus of prognosticators predicting Republicans will win the Senate majority in November. In many ways, that’s irrelevant because of three incumbent governors.  Polls show tight races for Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, and Rick Snyder in Michigan; Sam Brownback in Kansas isn’t blowing the doors off his challenger, either.

The importance of these seats goes beyond the fact that the states tend to be close in Presidential years; in his own way, each of the four governors has enacted reforms that make a real-world case for conservative policies. The mantra that “Republicans have to be FOR something!” is tired but very true. Each of these incumbents has enacted policies that have improved their respective states. Losses in any one state could wash away years of real progress, and it might make Republicans in other states suddenly reticent to push a reform agenda.

There are other conservative reformers out there who either aren’t up for reelection this year or who don’t have a serious opponent. These tight races will be a good electoral test for policies which have, so far, been effective. That means even more to the Republican Party than who runs the Senate in 2015.

(In the interest of disclosure, the firm I work for has done work for Walker, Scott, and Snyder and for party committees in the respective states – but as should be patently obvious, no inside information was used in linking to those publicly available polls.)

How important is Memorial Day REALLY?

It seems as if each year, some version of this Rasmussen poll is released. According to a survey, 39% of Americans see Memorial Day as “one of the most important” holidays we celebrate.

You have to wonder how honest those answers are. Wouldn’t most decent people, when asked, say it’s important to set aside a day each year to remember those who served and died? I bet the folks at Progress Now New Mexico would, even if they didn’t bother to release a simple statement to that effect. Ditto for the countless Americans who treated the just-passed long weekend as a summer kickoff, an opportunity for extra yard work, or a chance for a cookout with the good meats – not just hot dogs.

All of these are valid ways to spend the weekend, and your Memorial Day remembrance was a couple minutes of silent reflection rather than a day of fervent prayer for souls lost in battle, that’s okay. In fact, it’s kind of cool that we hold the concept of Memorial Day in higher esteem than our practice of it. (In the interest of staying off the high horse, I’ll gladly cop to being in the category of people who would say that Memorial Day is one of our most important national holidays, while having spent it driving through central Virginia wondering when the next Sheetz would appear on the side of Route 29.)

The point is that what people say about their behavior may represent their values, but their actions may not match.

For example, it’s a tricky thing for political pollsters to model who is going to be in the electorate in a given year – and while self-identification may be a factor, previous voting history is a bigger factor. You may tell a pollster you aren’t feeling it this year, but chances are that if you always find a way to the polls, you will again this time around.

Similarly, you may tell a pollster you intend to vote, but if you traditionally go the George Carlin route and just stay home, there’s a chance you’ll do it again. But if you say you plan to vote, but have a history of not voting, it may signify an intent to vote, or at least an understanding of the value of voting. Those people would probably be more open to get-out-the-vote messaging and campaign communication – the way a Memorial Day grillmaster might stop somewhere between medium and medium-well and think about how good we have it, and feel that brief pang of guilt for those that faced a much more intense heat than his propane-fueled crucible of shish-kabob.

Even when reality falls short of aspiration, the aspiration can be useful just the same.

If nothing changes, everything will stay like this!

Today, Politico opines that immigration reform will give Democrats a big edge in future elections:

The immigration proposal pending in Congress would transform the nation’s political landscape for a generation or more — pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that, if current trends hold, would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.

Even Politico admits that this type of projection is “speculative” given that the newly eligible voters wouldn’t be casting President ballots until 2020 or 2028.  It doesn’t keep them from speculating, though.

This sounds similar to the countless pundits on the right who have been wringing their hands for the last six months over the Great Question of What Went Wrong in 2012.  How, they ask desperately, are we ever to win again?  We don’t speak to minority groups!  We don’t use Big Data!  Our candidates are bad!  Our messages are out of touch!  Look at all the support for President Obama in 2012!

Republicans who feel bad about this should review the last several candidates for President produced by the Democratic party before they struck gold with Obama:

  • John Kerry, an aristocrat out of Massachusetts who couldn’t beat a vulnerable sitting President.
  • Al Gore.
  • Bill Clinton, who was likable enough to score a second term but not ideological enough to move the ball for liberalism.
  • Michael Dukakis.
  • Walter Mondale.
  • Jimmy Carter.
  • George McGovern, an unabashed liberal who was thoroughly crushed.
  • Hubert H. Humphrey.
  • Lyndon Johnson, whose most liberal policies didn’t come out until he one re-election on the coattails of John F. Kennedy’s legacy.
  • JFK, a charismatic and media-friendly candidate who was able to ignite the electorate and win wide popular support.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 48 years between exciting Democratic candidates.  If you want to find another Democratic candidate who helped the party ideologically, you have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt.

You could make a similar list for Republicans, of course.  The point is, political environments are fleeting and not static.  In eight years, GOP messaging could be very different, and the voices delivering those messages will be different, too – while left-leaning activists may be quoting the Great and Powerful Barack Obama the way today’s conservatives wistfully remember Ronald Reagan.



2012 Math

Friday’s downgrade of America’s credit rating and the subsequent stock market skittishness naturally means a new round of speculation on President Obama’s re-election chances.  This week Gallup released state-by-state job approval numbers that paint a picture of an incumbent with some work to do.

President Obama’s approval ratings are listed as “below average” (under 44% or so) in 18 states,  representing 162 electoral votes.  Including three other typically “red” states where his ratings are average but still low (Arizona, Mississippi, and Georgia) would bring that total to 195.  Throwing in North Carolina and Virginia – traditionally Republican states the President carried by narrow margins in 2008 – the number jumps to 223, or 47 electoral votes shy of victory.  That scenario would make Ohio and Florida (with a combined 47 electoral votes) especially critical.

Should this be cause for Republican celebration?  Not so fast.

Not factored into these numbers, of course, is election performance – the poll measures only approval rating, not his performance against specific opponents or even the “Generic GOP candidate.”  He has 173 electoral votes in his pocket where he has above average approval ratings, plus another 45 in states which he is likely to win (Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon).  That gives the President a total of 218 electoral votes in house money.  And Presidential house money is worth more than challenger house money.

As Gallup notes, George W. Bush’s approval ratings were pretty low heading into the 2004 race – around 48%.  His massive campaign apparatus found his supporters in the right places and got them to the polls – the type of blocking and tackling the Obama campaign was good at in 2008.  Gallup’s numbers may seem optimistic for Republicans, but they actually paint a pretty good picture for the President.

IT’S A TRAP: NBC/WSJ poll says GOP is in trouble

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll – the one that showed the Republicans with big edges in preference among likely voters – is a warning flag for the GOP.  (Of note, it was NBC’s Today show, thanks to Chuck Todd, who hit on this issue this morning.  As much as I’ve bashed them, you have to give credit where credit is due.)

Most media outlets are pointing out the big advantages Republicans enjoy.  Voters are saying they would prefer Republicans in charge of Congress, they don’t much care for Nancy Pelosi, and they don’t buy the argument that the incoming class would hearken back to the days of Dubya.  But buried in most of the coverage is a potential looming problem: differences in opinion among voters about what their votes mean.

Check out the bottom of page 12 of the poll results.  Republicans and self-identified Tea Partiers are thinking about this election as a chance to reign in the federal government to its constitutionally defined boundaries; independents are more concerned with jobs and the economy.  The Ackbarian trap here lies in how Republicans craft their messages once the business of campaigning turns into the business of governing.

Those two items – sticking to the Constitution and helping the economy – are not mutually exclusive, but the response to this question does indicate a differing value system.  The easy strategy is to pay attention to which audience is receiving certain communications and tailor messages accordingly; as is often the case, the easy strategy is not the best.

The simple fact is that basing policy solely on a 225-year-old piece of paper doesn’t do anything to translate to an independent voter how that policy will help him or her or the country as a whole.  Frankly, the argument sounds like a crutch.  (“Look, it would be nice to give everyone, but this document – which actually said buying people like you would buy cattle was ok until 1808 – says we can’t do it.  Sorry!”)  However, despite the media intimations to the contrary, the idea that our government has gone well beyond the limits that were set out for it – and that doing so has actually caused more problems than it has solved – is quite an intellectual conclusion, and suggests that these are pretty savvy political observers.  These activists will support Constitutional policies without someone spelling out why those policies are constitutional.

Unfortunately, politicians seem to have trouble understanding that keeping a base engaged need not be pandering, and engaging the political center needn’t involve moderating one’s beliefs.  Through that cynical view, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll seems to forecast Republican political gains tomorrow followed by confusion on messaging over policy priorities in 2011.  (That also cuts out an interesting role for tea party activists as the conscience of the Republican party.)

To sell their economic policies on November 3 and beyond, the GOP will have to get smart on talking to the center from the right.  That they have been able to do so successfully in the past year speaks to their probable success in 2010; how well they do so in the next year will decide their success in 2012.

Crist crossing party lines

It’s hard to portray yourself as an outsider when you sit in the governor’s mansion in one of the biggest states in the union.  But Gov. Charlie Crist did his best yesterday, positioning his decision to run as an independent as an answer to a broken system. And it just might work.

Though polls currently show Marco Rubio with a slight edge, they also show that 35-40% will likely win the race.  (Unlike Sen. Joe Lieberman’s 2006 run after losing the Connecticut Democrat primary, the opposition party is not laying down.)   Even though some Republican donors are sure to ask for their money back, Crist is a sitting governor through the beginning of next year and Florida is a state with plenty of commercial interests.  That math isn’t hard to do.

If Crist wins, the math gets even more fun.  Assuming he stays independent, he could become very difficult to topple as long as he maintains support in one third of the electorate.  That would make him an anomaly in American politics: a safe incumbent with 35% support.

Now America loves health care reform

In a reversal not seen since Springfield decided they loved the Burlesque House, poll numbers on the health care bill have just about flipped since its passage, with a small edge favoring the bill.

Those numbers will likely go up in the next few months.  Americans are overwhelmingly satisfied with their own health care, and most of the provisions of the health care legislation will roll out slowly over the next decade.   President Obama’s oh-so-Presidential taunts about health care overhaul – calling on Republicans to “look around” in “two months, six months” – are backed up by the fact that very little will happen in that time.

More evidence that “repeal the deal” would be a loser as a political slogan this November.  But what if the slogan was “finish the job”?

Buried in the bill (and this story on CNN) are limitations on Flex Spending Accounts – personal savings accounts people can use to save money for their own health care.  Along with silly items like taxes on tanning beds and regulations on the McDonald’s dollar menu, there are plenty of gaps in the program administered by our new health overlords.  Why not attack those in the name of making people healthier?

Framing real health reform this way is a winner – after all, as the polls show, America loves to back the winning horse.