NPF: TACO PROLETARIANS

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 31st, 2008 by Ed

Taco Bell runs a promotion during the World Series in which, if a player steals a base during a designated game, everyone in America gets a free taco. Literally, all you have to do is walk in and say "Gimmie a goddamn taco, and expect no money to exchange hands upon delivery of said taco" and they will comply.

Last year, proving that God is great and the universe has a sense of humor, the man who won America its Taco bounty was a rookie named Jacoby Ellsbury. He will now be known for the rest of his playing days natural life as "Tacoby Bellsbury." This year's giver of tacos was Rays shortstop Jason Barlett. Boo. Given my knowledge of the Taco Bell menu, I see no way to re-christen Mr. Bartlett in a manner that communicates his noble deed. Suggestions welcome.

PS: Tuesday was free taco day. I am ashamed that I was too busy with the election to note it.

THE CONSTRUCTED EXPLANATION

Posted in Election 2008 on October 31st, 2008 by Ed

My dissertation chair, a woman with the mind of a Mensan and the patience of Saint Jude the Apostle (the patron saint of lost causes, for you non-papists), made her name in the field by researching what she calls "constructed explanations" for electoral outcomes. Briefly, elections suck at providing information. They tell us who wins, but nothing about why people voted the way they did or how Candidate X managed to prevail.

There is competition after any election to establish the explanation for what happened. Since there's effectively no way to answer the "why" question, self-interested political actors seek to establish the explanation that suits them as the definitive one. In other words, immediately after the election there are 100 explanations thrown at the wall by the media, candidates, and parties. Five of them stick. Over the next few weeks that gets narrowed down to one – "the" unofficial official explanation of what happened. This single explanation doesn't get established because it's true or superior to the alternatives – it takes root because the people who benefit from it did the best job of selling it. Thus these things pass from idle musings to certified Conventional Wisdom.

The 2000 and 2004 elections were extraordinarily close, meaning that the spin couldn't begin until we actually figured out who won. With the outcome of next Tuesday's presidential race being assumed by many candidates and talking heads at this point (justifiably or not), the attempt to construct explanations is already well under way. In particular, rival factions in the GOP have already fired the opening shots in a battle to explain their anticipated failure. I will bet my staggering grad student salary that the explanations will quickly winnow down to the following:

1. If McCain wins, the conversation will not be on his accomplishment but instead on how everyone managed to get things so phenomenally wrong. I mean, there aren't even many Republicans who expect him to win at this point. Explanations about McCain having achieved a miracle comeback will be floated. Eventually, though, the dominant explanation will be that McCain simply wasn't as far behind as the media led us to believe. Polls are nonsense and the media, with their fervent pro-Obama bias, endlessly reported his inevitable win because they wanted it so badly. There might be a grain of truth here. If McCain wins there certainly will be, as the man used to say, some splanin' to do from our friends in the media and in the polling industry.

2. If Obama wins in a historic landslide – something on the order of 400+ EV – the explanation will be "We underestimated the power of young and/or black voters turning out in large numbers." Again the polling industry will be fingered (*giggle*) for under-representing these voters in their samples in favor of lard-assed white guys in their 40s. There will of course be scant evidence that young and/or black voters were actually the cause of an overwhelming Obama win, but the explanation will be simple and plausible enough to gain wide acceptance.

3. In the event that the election very closely resembles the predictions, the explanations will focus on the candidates and not the coverage. It will also mark the official start of what could be a 1960s Democrats-style meltdown in the GOP. In one corner will be the moderates (non-Christian Right), the economic conservatives with lukewarm committments to social issues. They have chafed at the necessary presence of the Dobson crowd ("Can't have a majority without 'em", sayeth Rove) for two decades while the religious conservatives have resented that so little of their agenda receives more than lip service. A crushing loss in Congress and the White House will be the spark that causes the simmering tensions to explode.

The first team, who I shall call Team Palin, will consist mostly of the "values voters" and social conservatives who felt so powerful in 2000 and 2004. TP will also attract party hard-liners, the kind of people who think abandoning the party when it nominates a shitty candidate is tantamount to treason; National Review columnists, Freepers, and talk radio zombies. Their explanation is quite predictable: McCain lost because he wasn't conservative enough. He was some sort of closet liberal who failed the True Believer test repeatedly. To Team Palin, the lesson will be patently obvious: never again can the party err by nominating someone to the left of Sean Hannity. If you're one of these traitorous fake conservatives who bashed McCain for choosing the GovTard, you are not a real Republican. Mike sent me this link and called it the new "Palin Litmus Test." I think that fits. "I've got news for the Christopher Buckleys of the world — if Sarah Palin is enough to make you decide you're not a Republican, you're not a Republican."

There's going to be a lot of this kind of dick-waving, in-fighting, and calling-out during the fight to determine who the Real Republicans are. Picture extremist Muslim hard-liners, the kind who think suicide bombers are martyrs, versus that nice Muslim guy at your office who wears Dockers and watches 30 Rock.

Yes, the second team, who I shall call Team Traitor, will have a different explanation: "We ran a shitty candidate on the heels of a shitty President. We've gone too far. Time to ratchet down the rhetoric a little and win back mainstream America." These are the people jumping ship in advance of the election – Chris Buckley, Christopher Shays, William Weld, Lincoln Chaffee, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Colin Powell, and so on. These are the more reasonable, less ideologically rigid Republicans, the kind who are conservative but not mindlessly partisan. Unlike Team Palin, these GOPers will not blindly follow any jackass who calls himself a Republican. Team Traitor will of course blame the defeat almost entirely on the nomination of Sarah Palin. They will hold her up as proof that the party needs people of substance, not vapid spokesmodels.

If the election plays out as so many are predicting, this fourth and final explanation will come closest, in my opinion, to hitting the mark. This is still a ridiculously conservative country. An historic Democratic landslide across all races will not signal a population that has found Liberalism as its new religion. Instead I believe it is the non-Democratic voting public registering its disgust with the Rove/Bush/Dobson incarnation of the GOP. Palin and this campaign represent everything you need to know about why the Democrats are likely to win big – the inanity, the shameless mudslinging, the stale ideas, the hipocrisy, the faux-moralizing, and the racist dog-whistles. Team Traitor will be correct, in essence. The GOP needs to find good candidates, come up with a new idea for the first time in 40 years, and run the Principled Campaign that gramps promised he would give us.

But now that the GOP is stuck with the loony right as load-bearing column in their big tent, which explanation do you think will actually prevail? I think we know which one, and we're certain that it's going to be sweet, vengeful fun watching the intraparty bloodbath on the way to Team Palin's "victory."

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THREE DECADES

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30th, 2008 by Ed

Well, goodbye to the twenties. I feel about having lived for 30 years the way Mark Twain described a trip to the falls in "Niagara":

You can descend a staircase here a hundred and fifty feet down, and stand at the edge of the water. After you have done it, you will wonder why you did it; but you will then be too late.

Given my epic fail on the academic job market I am starting to wonder what, exactly, I have to show for the twenties. I mean, other than a profane blog.

THE HERO'S TALE

Posted in Election 2008 on October 30th, 2008 by Ed

(This is going to get a little weird)

Had George Lucas followed through with his initial script and storyline for the Star Wars trilogy, it is unlikely that they would be among the most famous films in existence. I will not regale you with the laundry list of flaws inherent in his original story, but they were numerous and would have produced a forgettable piece of C-minus science fiction. Lucas owes his fame, fortune, and success to the fact that, at some point between the first draft and the day filming began, he discovered Joseph Campbell.**

Campbell, of course, is famous for having introduced to a wide audience the concept of a "Monomyth" (The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 1949), a theory that culture-defining myths and stories that originated independently (although that claim is contentious) in different societies are remarkably similar. In other words, there are not stories originating from different cultures, there are different cultures telling interpretations of the same story. While Campbell can hardly claim that he invented this idea, he did successfully apply it to a broad range of classical mythology. In the introduction to his seminal work, Campbell describes the tale as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

That tremendous oversimplification describes a tale we have heard many times, a tale that Lucas chose to tell almost verbatim in Star Wars. Humble birth. Mystical calling. Refusal of said calling followed by selfless acceptance. A quest defined. Trials endured and temptations resisted. Evil vanquished. The Hero enters a second, higher plane of existence and refuses return. The Hero bestows the benefits of knowledge and experience from The Journey on his fellow men. Death is followed by resurrection and/or eternal life on a higher plane.

Sound familiar? It should. It's The Lord of the Rings. Star Wars. The New Testament. The life of the Buddha. The Matrix. The Lion King. Led Zeppelin's concept album phase. The stories of Moses, Osiris, Mohammed, or Abraham. Homer's Odyssey. Ender's Game. Harry Potter. Anything by James Joyce. We could list examples for days. Campbell would argue that these works of literature and film are almost universally loved because they tell a tale with which we innately and subconsciously identify.

So, you say, great. Who cares. Well, the power of this narrative is not lost on political campaigns. If you think I am about to make a leap too far, consider the official biography videos (10 minutes each) produced by the McCain and Obama campaigns. Obviously they have to steer clear of the spiritual/supernatural dimensions of the Monomyth, but the effort to structure the candidates' biographies around the classic story are unmistakable. They rose from humble beginnings and received a call to service – to be exceptional – at a young age. They faced great challenges, sought the guidance of their wisened elders (not to mention God), and returned from the top of the mountain to bestow what they've learned on their fellow man. They are reluctant leaders, not power-hungry tyrants. Whatever temptations have crossed their paths were resisted.

The Hero/Savior also exists as a Jungian archetype, proving that Mr. Campbell was not the first person to grasp the universality of the imagery. Obama's campaign has been masterful at evoking the desired psychological responses from voters, projecting the calm and poise of natural leader. McCain, on the other hand, has been less successful at selling the Hero archetype. Instead*** he has been cast as the Wise Old Man, an archetype which garners respect but fails to excite. Biden was chosen to deflate McCain's claim to experience and wisdom. Jung or Campbell, in fact, would point out that the Hero-Wise Old Man combination of Obama-Biden (or Skywalker-ObiWan, Neo-Morpheus, Frodo-Gandalf, Daniel San/Mr. Myagi) speaks directly to our innate desires. Unfortunately for McCain, I'm not sure that the Wise Old Man/Village Idiot combo does so as successfully.****

Nothing in politics is left to chance. Whether or not they have read Joseph Campbell, both campaigns are depicting their man as the star of the Monomyth. And while the Bush-Cheney campaign probably didn't know who Carl Jung is, they absolutely nailed the Hero/Wise Old Man dynamic that people find so innately appealing. It would be too controversial to say that this explanation is a complete one for 2008 or any other election, but I strongly believe that what we usually call "character" or "charisma" – the non-issue-related portion of a candidate's appeal – is in reality a predictable set of responses to archetypes ingrained in the human psyche, hiding in the background and guiding our emotional responses.

**Lucas became such a fan that Campbell's famous Power of Myth miniseries with Bill Moyers was actually filmed at Skywalker Ranch.

***I've lost you at this point, haven't I? Unfortunately for you, I could talk about Jungian imagery and mass responses to political cues and phenomena all day. It's my birthday, so I'm going to talk about it all damn day if I want to.

****Kidding aside, Palin is intended to appeal to the classic Jungian 'MILF' archetype. OK, no, seriously, all kidding aside, Palin is supposed to fill an Everyman (common sense aplenty, dontchaknow!) or Rebel/Rugged Individualist archetype.

STEP INTO THE SURGE

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on October 29th, 2008 by Ed

Last week I said "The polls will narrow over the next two weeks as undecideds finally extract heads from asses, but there are only two ways to get around the data showing Obama in the lead." Indeed, the national polls seem to be narrowing ever so slightly, bumping McCain up to around 45%. But the state polls aren't budging. In Pennsylvania, for example, Obama's lead remains in double-digits. How is that possible?

It's pretty simple. First, right-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen and Zogby are amping up the use of "likely voter" models to exclude respondents who get in the way of the surge story. Second, a lot of "undecided" voters in uncompetitive states are coming out of the closet for McCain. I'm sure it thrills the campaign to realize that it may have rocketed from 38% to 42% in California.

UPDATE: ONE WEEK OUT

Posted in Election 2008 on October 29th, 2008 by Ed

Throughout this post I encourage you to use the "And thennnnnnnn…." voice from Dude? Where's My Car?

Let me explain in detail what John McCain would need to accomplish – in about four days, mind you – in order to win this election. While polling is not an exact science, let's start by assuming that McCain (but not Obama) currently wins the "strong" states – states in which the polling lead is more than 10 percentage points. Hell, let's even give him the three GOP leaners and consider them solid. Thus:


We start gramps with 142 EV (AK, AZ, ID, UT, WY, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, KY, TN, MS, AL, SC, and WV). Now here is his mission, with tasks arranged in order of increasing difficulty.

Step One: Prevail in three toss-up states in which Obama's competitiveness has been unexpected (Montana, North Dakota, and Georgia). The RNC has just started running ads in Montana, a decent sign that they are worried. McCain needs to go 3-for-3, putting him at 163 EV. And then…

Step Two: While devoting heavy resources to the above three states, McCain must also find a way to prevail in four legitimate toss-ups, states that are statistical ties or Obama leads: Indiana, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina. Note what has been laid out so far – McCain has swept seven tough swing states, including a behemoth like Florida. That gives him…a whole 227 EV. If he goes 7-for-7 in battlegrounds. And then…

Step Three: McCain must once again sweep a set of four states which lean Obama (New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio). Note that he has never led in New Mexico or Colorado and he has officially pulled up stakes in NM to boot. So without even campaigning heavily (or at all) in these states he must overcome four statistically significant leads for Obama. If he does, bringing his ridiculously improbable run to 11-for-11 in battleground states, he wins, right? Actually, that puts him at 266 EV. And then…

Step Four: Finally McCain must win a state in which he currently trails by margins like 10 or 12 points in single-state polling. The list includes New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. He has never led in any of these states. In Virginia he has trailed significantly for more than a month. The good news, if it can be so called, is that if he wins a big one like Pennsylvania he would have some wiggle room to drop one of the 11 states mentioned previously. The bad news is that making up a 10-point deficit in a couple of days is unlikely, let alone coming from behind in a dozen states at once.

So it's just that easy. All McCain needs to do is win everywhere and do it in four days with no money and a campaign that has devolved into vicious in-fighting – not to mention all the high-profile conservatives who have abandoned ship or the fact that literally hundreds of polls must be wrong by about 8 points in order for any of this to be remotely plausible (although the last part isn't necessary as long as you're going by the real polls – the ones Zogby does for Drudge Report based on discredited decade-old turnout models).

I'd say "Stranger things have happened!" but unless you can find evidence of a team of nearsighted midgets performing Death of a Salesman in Mongolian wearing robes made of veal, then no. Stranger things have not happened.

The candidates are using their ticket-mates quite differently at this point, Palin being used heavily to fire up the rednecks and Biden being locked in a small closet with water but no food. Other than in Pennsylvania, where he could potentially help, Biden can only hurt the campaign now. Palin is in her element (i.e., slandering Obama to crowds of slack-jawed racists) and it's hard to tell if she's campaigning for McCain or for herself in 2012.

McCain has ceased to run for president as much as he is running against Barack Obama. His campaign has abandoned whatever message it had about its candidate and is 100% devoted to going negative. Notice how there's never any talk about McCain's philosophy or ideas, only dark hints of Obama's socialist leanings. No policy proposals, only scare tactics about what Obama's proposals will bring. No relevant character points about McCain himself, just hundreds of different aspersions about Obama. It wouldn't be so sad if it actually worked, but it appears to have little effect.

Lastly, the McCain camp is launching its desperation "ACORN stole the election from us" message a week early. They're just so gosh-darn confident about winning that they need to devote their pivotal final week to planting this seed. Irrespective of my preferences, if Obama wins I hope it is by a sizeable margin. Otherwise this is going to be decided in court (although note that the Supreme Court rejected the Ohio GOP's attempt to force the SOS to purge 100,000+ voters based on spelling errors and technicalities). If there is fraud involved in our voting process I will be the first person to call attention to it. This, however, feels less like an epidemic of fraud than a pitiable attempt to play the victim card of which the right have taken full ownership in the Fox News era.

I see nothing changing. Either the data we have now are accurate and Obama wins or every empirical measure of the race is flat wrong and the polling industry needs to be vigorously spanked.

McCAIN FINALLY TROUNCES OBAMA

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on October 28th, 2008 by Ed

If you have 30 minutes to kill, the annual Al Smith foundation dinner from two weeks ago is very entertaining. For the uninitiated, the dinner is essentially a stand-up comedy event for whatever candidates and public figures are asked to speak. And for the first time in their series of appearances on the same stage, McCain schools Obama.

Granted, they are both just reading jokes written for them by someone else, but McCain's comic timing and material are superior. Obama looks uncomfortable for some reason and commits the cardinal comedy sin of stopping to elicit a response from flat jokes. Just move on, man.

A for McCain, B- for Obama.

JOE THE MORON

Posted in Rants on October 28th, 2008 by Ed

Like every single thing the campaign has tried in the past three months, McCain's "Joe the Plumber" gambit has backfired. By choosing a person – a real one – to embody the working-class authenticity that Republican candidates so desperately apply like cheap cologne, it makes far easier the task of pointing out the deranged reasoning that underlies "hard hat" conservatism. Joe the Plumber is not a fraud, a rich contractor playing at middle class. He earns right around the median income for a man of his age – about $50,000. He doesn't lack authenticity. What he lacks, based on his circumstances and rank-ordering of important political issues, is brainpower.

Joe lives near Toledo, Ohio. The most charitable way I can describe that city is "post-industrial shithole." The city's unemployment rate is 9% as measured with the Bureau of Labor Statistics' woefully understated methodology. There are many thousands of foreclosed homes within the city limits at this moment; Toledo is in the top ten large cities nationwide for foreclosures. Its population has fallen from 384,000 in 1970 to 285,000 today. Its violent crime rate is fully double the national average and rising. Based on nine common economic indicators, Lucas County (home of Toledo) ranks 87th out of 88 counties in Ohio for economic performance between 2001-2008. Annual bankruptcy filings have increased 23% in the same time period, while the percentage of residents in poverty has increased from 12% to a third-world-like 17%. Nearly 8000 manufacturing jobs have been eliminated in just six years (2001-2007). Toledo proper gained national attention for its unprecedented 7.5% drop in median home price in just 12 months. Real incomes are falling. In short, Toledo is in what its hometown newspaper calls a "downward spiral." Every vital sign is flatlining and the city is entering what is likely a terminal economic torpor.

None of this matters to Joe the Plumber, of course. He lies awake at night worrying about taxes. That he lives in a picture-perfect example of the kinds of cities that right-wing economic policies have rendered moribund is irrelevant. What keeps Joe on edge and bubbling with entitled white male rage is Barack Hussein Tax-&-Spend Obama's dastardly, amoral plan to raise taxes. I suppose that make sense, right? Nothing wrong with Joe wanting to hold on to his money during hard times!

That Joe would receive a healthy tax cut under either candidate's proposal is irrelevant. Obama's plan raises taxes on the comically wealthy, ergo Joe must object. The rationale behind Joe's intense concern about taxes is puzzling. There are several possibilities:

1. Brainwashed by a steady diet of sub-moronic talk radio, Joe honestly does not understand what Obama and McCain are proposing in their tax plans and how it affects him. He knows nothing beyond "Democrats in Power = Higher Taxes, Hardcore Marxism, and Chuck Schumer Will Probably Kill Your Dog."

2. Joe feels compelled to take a moral stand against the mere concept of tax increases, perverting for his own purposes the idea that "If a single person is oppressed, none are free."

3. Joe realizes that he does not make $250,000 but, regardless of his age and limited economic potential, thinks that he will soon.

The final point is, in my opinion, at the heart of all blue-collar Tax Bitching – "Average Joes" staring saucer-eyed at The Glenn Beck Show full of blood-curdling rage and fantastical rationalizations of how they will someday be in the top tax bracket. Joe the Plumber, in essence, is unconcerned with Toledo's very tangible economic implosion. He is literally standing among the ruins of a city and a middle class he allegedly represents braying about what tax rate he might have to pay when he "makes it."

All of the Joes out there who wouldn't know Horatio Alger from a hole in the ground are living out the author's most vivid jerk-off fantasies. Everyone makes it to the top as long as they work hard and vote Republican. Making a quarter-mil per year is common; it is practically a birthright. As Mike pointed out recently, note this wonderful comment from an article on the right wing's "Let's Move to Canada" freak-out in the face of a Democratic landslide:

The best medicine is to teach people how to make money, lots of it. The more people who believe that they can earn $250,000 in the next few years, and the more that actually do, the less enthusiasm there will be for confiscating “plumber’s wealth.”

The last time someone told me I could be earning $250,000 in a year or two, I was watching an infomercial at 4:30 AM. But the healthy combination of ignorance and delusion have created an entire generation of Joe the Morons who don't understand what taxes do and do not apply to them, where they stand on the economic spectrum, and what constitutes an appropriate time to take moral stands based on a solipsistic and warped view of reality.

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MEXICAN STANDOFF

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on October 27th, 2008 by Ed

So the thing I can't figure out about the left-leaning skeptics' and pessimists' position, meritorious as it may be: if McCain isn't losing, why does everyone involved in his campaign seem to think he is? The McCain/Palin folks are less a campaign than a gangbang of finger pointing, back-stabbing, and self-interest these days. If they were confident about pulling off some early November surprise, Palin wouldn't be campaigning for 2012 and the hired help wouldn't be pre-emptively spinning the loss with an eye toward future employment.

SIGHTINGS

Posted in Election 2008 on October 27th, 2008 by Ed

It is popular among political scientists to discuss the impact of large-scale turnout among young voters and African-Americans on our elections. This is akin to discussing what would happen if a comet hit the Earth – we make guesses based on fragmentary evidence, but no one has actually witnessed it.

It is an unquestioned fact that if voters between the ages of 18 and 24 are least likely to vote (or even be registered). In fact, the relationship between age and turnout is positive and persists until very old age.** Mountains of evidence also exist to show that black voters lag their white counterparts in turnout, although increased mobilization efforts may be closing the gap. This creates a vicious cycle in which politicians talk more about issues relevant to people who vote while ignoring issues relevant to young or black voters. They're playing the percentages. This is why you hear so goddamn much about Medicare and prescription drug prices and almost nothing about student loans, urban blight, or the decaying market for careers as opposed to entry-level jobs.

It also happens to be true, however, that young or black voters lean left. It is standard operating procedure for Democrats to attempt to increase turnout among these groups. Some have even based entire electoral strategies on it, and history is littered with their failed campaigns. The reasons for failure are numerous and conjectural – young voters have less life experience, may not consider politics important, may be ignorant of registration/voting procedures, or simply don't hear anything interesting out of the candidates (see above). Lower black turnout is speculated to be a function of cynicism, scapegoating by mainstream (white) politicians, socioeconomic deficits, etc.

Obama is not the first candidate to invest significant resources into turning out voting-eligible black or college-aged Americans. Several have hoped that it would put them over the top, only to be sorely disappointed. The thing is, young voters get real excited, swear they will vote, and then…..they don't. Likewise, large numbers of new black registrants are added each election season with a negligible increase in turnout. So this strategy, although common, has yet to produce a demonstrable victory.

We may see a meaningful increase in black- and young-voter participation in 2008, but a careful analysis of demographic splits suggests that the result will not be as impressive as many observers expect. Black voters are about 12-14% of the electorate, a disproportionate number of whom (compared to other ethnic groups) are ineligible to vote. Increasing black turnout by 10% (an ambitious goal) would only increase overall turnout among all eligible voters by about 1%. Since black voters choose the Democrat about 93% of the time – maybe 99% this time around – the majority of that increase will benefit Obama. So the 1% increase is significant enough to matter in really close states (note that some, like Iowa, Nevada, and NH have negligible black populations) but most of it will be insignificant, falling in states like Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Illinois, and so on. It may help a tight race in Ohio, NC, or PA, although they would have to be very close for this to matter.

The effect of young voters is even more dubious. Let's say that they really jack up turnout rates from 30% to 60%. Well, 18-to-24s only comprise 8% of the electorate. And the split in their allegiances, according to available polling data, is something like 65/35 Obama. So even doubling 18-to-24 turnout is unlikely to have a statistically significant impact on electoral outcomes unless a particular state is extremely close.

In short, if Obama wins big it is going to be on account of his appeal to middle-aged and older white voters. I don't think this is the case because said voters are "more important" – they are simply the most numerous by far.

I am a fairly committed anti-skeptic at this point in the race. Turnout among college-aged and black voters, however, will remain firmly in the "believe it when I see it" camp. My feeling is that the makeup of the electorate will change while overall turnout increases only slightly. The reason is simple: for every person who would not ordinarily vote but will turn out for Obama, there is a Republican in Illinois or New York who is dangerously close to thinking "Um, fuck it." Right or wrong, Republicans have been demoralized by nine months of a bad candidate, a worse running mate, and incessant messages about the impending bloodshed in Congress. In areas not broadly considered competitive, apathy (or overconfidence) might suppress turnout as much as other circumstances promote it.

**Turnout increases with age because voters become "stakeholders" in their 30s/40s, buying homes and having kids. They have more to gain or lose. Another bump occurs at age 65, as the elderly have time on their hands. But at very old ages (80+) the relationship between age and turnout becomes inverse, as mobility, the ability to drive, and mental faculties tend to decline rapidly and take political participation with them.

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