LOOK AT ALL THAT RED!

Posted in Election 2010 on November 15th, 2010 by Ed

Among the dumbest of many dumb things passed off as intelligent commentary on Election Night 2010 was the constant emphasis on color changes on the big national Congressional district maps that all of the major networks kept on prominent display. Fox, CNN, and ABC (and probably others, but I can't watch everything at once) are in agreement, apparently, that viewers are 5 years old and thus best able to absorb the events of the evening through brightly-colored graphics. Look! Look at the blue turn into red. That means things are changing!

Anderson Cooper in particular was heavy on the "Just look at all of this red, Wolf!" commentary. Where there was once some blue there is now just a "sea of red", a metaphor he managed to use dozens of times without making a joke about the Red Sea. What AC and the gang were so breathlessly reporting underscores near total ignorance of a rapidly increasing trend in both presidential and midterm election years.

This is a county map of the Illinois Senate race. Say it with me, guys: Just look at all that red!!

Bearing in mind that the race was actually pretty close (48%-46%, with the final difference around 100,000 votes), note that the Democrat Giannoulias won three counties in Illinois. Three. Out of 102. One of them – St. Clair County, home of East St. Louis, he won by 0.1% (about 200 votes). Another, Alexander County, had all of 2400 votes cast. And then of course he won Cook County…by 450,000 votes. 450,000!

Basically Giannoulias did what Democratic candidates always do in Illinois, and increasingly what Democratic candidates do in every state – win the major urban areas by so much that losing the entire rest of the state won't matter. Alexi G lost, of course, but the race was damn close. He came within a hair of winning and he lost 99 of 102 counties in the state.

This pattern reminds me of 2004, when John Kerry won a number of states in a similar fashion. In fact, nationwide Kerry won 583 counties…to Bush's 2,530. That is a margin of nearly five to one, yet the popular vote was within 2%. Among the 5 counties with the largest margin of victory for Kerry were San Francisco County, Washington D.C., and Bronx Borough. Bush's were Glasscock County, TX, Madison County, ID and other similarly fly-blown places.

In short, gaping at the color balance on the map is ridiculous because Republicans have proven beyond any doubt in the past 30 years that they are absolutely dominant in areas where no one lives. Huge, sparsely populated districts/counties/states are their cup of tea. And they win a ton of them. Democrats, on the other hand, make their victories count by winning – and winning big – where humans actually live. The level of intrastate polarization between rural and urban areas in modern elections is hard to overstate. It really boils down to city folk vs. country folk to a degree that might be unequaled in our history.

Yes, American elections have always been divided by some more-or-less clearly defined cleavage, be it North vs. South, Coasts vs. The Middle, or industry vs. agriculture. But in recent years, Obama's near-blowout in 2008 excepted, both parties have struggled to win votes beyond their rural and urban comfort zones. Even in the reddest Red State, Democrats do far better in urban areas. Even in the bluest Blue State, the rural areas are highly conservative. Elections end up turning on turnout differentials and the "swing" areas in the suburbs – which lean Republican far more often than not.

This raises an interesting question for Democratic strategists, and it is the primary ideological debate within the party at present. Does it make more sense to try to alter the message enough to achieve some nonzero level of success in rural areas, or should they just go all in on urban-focused liberal policy to maximize turnout in the cities? In other words, should they even try in rural areas or is it rational to say "Ah, fuck it, let's just try to win Cook County by 550,000 next time" given that a well-oiled turnout machine could feasibly accomplish the latter? Perhaps just as interesting is the question of which elections are "normal" and which are anomalous: the 2000-2004 years in which Democratic success was limited strictly to urban areas or 2006-2008, when they had success elsewhere?

Unfortunately the results in 2010 suggest the former as the status quo, with the 2006-2008 results attributable mostly to anti-Bush sentiment and, in 2008, the spectacularly bad presidential ticket on the GOP side. This year snapped the Democrats back to their pattern of winning only in the cities and trying to make that hold up against the big ocean of rural red that so enthralls the crack professionals inside the Beltway.

EFFECTIVE REPRESENTATION

Posted in Election 2010 on November 4th, 2010 by Ed

There was only one race on Tuesday with an outcome that legitimately qualified as "shocking." Certainly there was a lot of turnover throughout both the House and Senate but all of it was, if not expected, at least somewhat plausible in the pre-election analysis. All of it except for the defeat of 18-term Congressman Jim Oberstar by a 50 year-old retired Northwest Airlines pilot named, I shit you not, Chip Cravaack. Even the RNC and the pro-GOP media seemed utterly shocked by Congressman-elect Cravaack's victory over one of the more well-established and -respected Democrats in the Midwest.

Political scientists are often accused of elitism for trying to tell voters what is in their own self-interest, but I will run that risk. Removing Oberstar from office is very, very contrary to the self-interest of the people in MN-08. The district is in the far northeast of the state and it is essentially a rural wasteland (former Mesabi Range iron country) excepting the "urban" areas of Duluth and Brainerd. Which is to say, the entire district is a wasteland. More accurately, and to quote a Minnesotan colleague from graduate school, "the entire district is one continuous Federal highway project." This is relevant because of the lack of meaningful alternative economic activity in the district, the primary exports of which are snow and suicide. And it certainly didn't hurt that Rep. Oberstar was the chairman (or ranking minority member when under Republican leadership) of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, better known in Washington as the High Temple of Targeted Economic Development Spending. You know, the slush fund.

Oberstar did a remarkably effective job of funneling highway projects to his district, and in fairness the horrible winters in the area made highway maintenance a more costly proposition than it would be in Texas, for example. Well, the people of MN-08 can kiss most of that money goodbye (although we'll reconsider that in just a moment). Chip Cravaack isn't going to be the chairman of anything, and the odds that he will be remotely influential in Congress between now and 2012 are extremely long. Jim Oberstar's job was to bring money back to his economically moribund district. Chip Cravaack's job is going to be to sit there with his mouth shut and vote how Glenn Beck John Boehner tells him.

But! But! Surely the voters of MN-08 will be thrilled by this development. They want nothing more than to see "pork" and "earmarks" and "government spending" slashed to zero as soon as possible. After all, that's why they voted for Chip Cravaack, right? Let's hope that the Tea Party delivers what they asked for.

One of the following two things will happen, and in my view the most interesting part of the next two years will be seeing how this plays out.

  • 1. The new GOP majority will slash all of the local pork projects along with lots of other government spending, decimating the economies of places like MN-08. Wait. What I mean is, they will grow the economy by cutting business taxes, so that small businesses in MN-08 (you know…road construction companies) can start hiring again! Free enterprise to the rescue! In the complete absence of demand, surely a tax cut will hammer away at unemployment. Sarcasm aside, if they actually cut everything they have promised to cut, rural districts are about to get bent over and unceremoniously fucked.

  • 2. The coalition of incoherent retirees, slack-jawed rubes, and businessmen that elected the Chip Cravaacks of the world will have a remarkable change of heart about government spending when they realize the likely impact on their own district. And Rep. Cravaack will respond the same way every other Congressman in the history of the institution has responded – by declaring the highway funds, ag subsidies, and other Federal dollars to his district "essential spending" while decrying the money funneled to the other 434 districts as "waste" and "pork."

    Option #1 would force voters to live with the consequences of their decisions and the policies they claim to support. As our entire political culture is built on the foundational idea that no one has to live with the consequences of their own actions, that means that Option #1 is about as likely as a Pittsburgh Pirates World Series appearance in 2011. Option #2, of course, means that absolutely nothing will change. The giant freshman class of Republicans – an unsightly parade of the lame, the halt, and the ugly – will very quickly fall in line with the norms of the institution, trying their damnedest to secure their own re-election by redirecting as much of everyone else's tax dollars to his or her district as possible.

    In short, this is going to be hilarious, at least until 2012 when they successfully blame the fact that the deficit continued to grow (thanks to more irresponsible tax cuts without either offsetting spending cuts or the subsequent economic growth that supply-siders constantly promise) on those goddamn liberals.

  • SHIP OF FOOLS: A GINANDTACOS ELECTION LIVEBLOG

    Posted in Election 2010 on November 2nd, 2010 by Ed

    All times Eastern Standard. All exit polls bullshit.

    7:01 – Kentucky polls closed 38 seconds ago and CNN calls KY for Rand Paul. They must have a high level of confidence in their inside information…

    7:06 – The changing face of voting. CNN's story "Light turnout in Nevada" barely notes that 400,000 people voted early. 400,000!

    7:18 – I am starting to realize how likely it is for that Nevada Senate race to be resolved 8 weeks from now in a courtroom, and Sharron Angle is already starting to fling idiotic lawsuits around.

    7:32 – Charlie Crist is not putting up much of a fight in Florida, which I find somewhat surprising. Holy God is CNN's panel of "experts" lousy with retards.

    8:10 – I like how CNN and NBC have reporters at Christine O'Donnell HQ. The race isn't competitive, but they want someone there on the expectation that some seriously crazy shit will go down.

    8:22 – Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but in a desperate search for good news tonight it looks like Joe Manchin is running strong in WV.

    8:39 – With Manchin and Blumenthal winning WV and CT, it is almost mathematically impossible for the GOP to take the Senate. It's just not plausible.

    9:07 – Rand Paul just promised a balanced budget. I've met some fucking idiots, and if I meet Rand Paul I will know one more. His crowd is chanting "END THE FED!"

    9:08 – Rand described the evening as a "Tea Party tidal wave." Meanwhile, Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey are getting cornholed in the early returns.

    9:19 – I'm shocked at how uncompetitive that IL Senate race is, although it is worth noting that the early returns include part of Cook County.

    9:33 – Marco Rubio isn't even saying anything. He's just throwing random words at the camera, and he actually said "Older people were once my age."

    10:13 – It is impossible for me to listen to Jim DeMint without asking "Is this guy fucking serious? I mean, is this a real person or some sort of performance artist?"

    10:23 – Turnout is shaping up to be absolutely pathetic. The pooled exit polls indicate that almost a full quarter (24%) of the voters nationwide were over 65. Wow.

    10:38 – I'll tell you one thing, these IL and PA Senate races are going to be up in the air for weeks while recounts and absentee ballots fly.

    11:15 – The level of election analysis on the news says more about the trouble we're in than the election outcomes tonight.

    11:32 – Rossi is up 4% in Washington but they haven't reported a single precinct from King County yet. I think they're just about to write off Sestak in PA. I figured Toomey would win, although we're guaranteed to see some hot recount and courtroom action in that one.

    11:58 – With CA (and CO soon, I think) it's no longer possible to lose the Senate. Frankly it doesn't make much difference in terms of outcomes – 52 isn't much better than 48 in a chamber that now requires 60 for everything – but it does keep the leadership.

    12:12 AM – On the plus side, Sharron Angle isn't going anywhere.

    12:26 AM – CNN is shocked that a state that elected Rick Santorum would elect someone as conservative as Pat Toomey.

    12:39 AM – I like how Sharron Angle is psychotic and had no real chance to win but the media played it up like a competitive race for months because lunatics deliver good ratings.

    INSPIRATIONAL ELECTION DAY SPEECH, v2010

    Posted in Election 2010, Quick Hits on November 1st, 2010 by Ed

    The recently-deceased James Gammon as Lou Brown in the 1989 baseball-comedy classic Major League:

    "All right people, we got 10 minutes 'till game time, let's all gather 'round. I'm not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I'd just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give 'em all a nice big shitburger to eat."

    SENATE 2010: FINAL BOARDING CALL

    Posted in Election 2010 on November 1st, 2010 by Ed

    As we reach the end of yet another long, grueling circus of a campaign, let us reflect on a few of the larger issues in play on Tuesday before charging into the predictions. (N.B.: I got exactly one Senate race wrong in 2008 and two in 2006, and in both years I was inadvisedly blinded by my hatred of Mitch McConnell and Bob Corker. Past results do not necessarily indicate future performance, but to continue this trend I should get 0 wrong in 2010 and then -2 wrong in 2012.)

    The GOP has done a poor job of managing expectations, setting themselves up for defeat even in victory. Do not misunderstand me. I don't mean literal defeat, as in failing to gain seats in both chambers. They are taking the House with 99.5% certainty and they will pick up at least four Senate seats, possibly more. The problem is that their year-long rhetoric and the overwhelming sense of cockiness radiating from the party elite really puts them in a bind. They and their media surrogates have been predicting such an overwhelming, crushing defeat for the Democrats on Tuesday that even a slightly better-than-expected performance by the blue party will read as a GOP defeat. The problem with predicting a 60-seat pickup is that when you "only" pick up 40 it looks like you underachieved. Gaining 40 House seats is really good for one election. But the Democrats would be able to look at a 40-seat loss and say "Is that it? What happened to the tidal wave of Teabaggers we've been hearing about?" In fact, I will be very surprised if the Democratic talking point after Tuesday is anything other than "This hardly looks like the revolution Glenn Beck promised."

    Now. On to the races.

    I hate House predictions. There are just too many races in play for one person to meaningfully track, analyze, and comment on them. The vast majority of predictions are the GOP gaining between 50 and 55 seats. My poorly-informed guess is that they will underperform that slightly based on the strength of some of the recent generic ballots. Generic ballots are a terrible tool overall, but Alan Abramowitz has done some pretty neat analysis of Gallup's generics over the years suggesting that a 4-6 point advantage for the GOP in generics corresponds to a 44-50 seat pickup in the House. I'll go with the 45-50 range and give Alan the credit if I'm right.

    And now the Senate.

    First, I've moved four additional races out of the Competitive category since the last update:

    Lincoln is toast in Arkansas, and after some initial indications that the races might be somewhat competitive Portman (OH) and Ayotte (NH) have really pulled away from their Democratic rivals. All three of those seats are likely safe R, and of course the surprise nomination of Christine O'Donnell has taken the Delaware race out of play.

    That means that of our 37 (!!!) races this year, more than 2/3rds of them – 27 in all – are slam-dunks:

    These races represent a 3-seat pickup for the GOP, with the North Dakota, Arkansas, and Indiana races switching parties.

    Finally, let's look at (few) the competitive races:

    Isn't that something? Only 10 competitive races, and I'm being generous to include two of them (MO and KY). First, let's talk briefly about the six races with solid predictions:

  • Illinois: Giannoulias's lead in recent non-Rasmussen polls, combined with the sheer power of the state Democratic Party in even the worst of times, suggest he will take this one by a hair. Ironically, it may be Libertarian Mike Labno (currently polling about 6%) who sinks Republican Mark Kirk in the final tally.

  • Kentucky: I'd bet money on Rand Paul with a high level of confidence, but his recent surge of bad press leaves just a sliver of hope for Jack Conway. It's been a while since the Bluegrass State sent a Democrat to the Senate, and this hardly seems like the year to do it. Paul wins.

  • Missouri: Roy Blunt appears to have this one in the bag, and I'm calling it competitive only because of my longstanding policy of never betting against a Carnahan in Missouri.

  • West Virginia: Joe Manchin has run a great campaign, including a dumb but stunningly effective TV spot, and has the lead in the late stages of a very tight race. This would be a big moral victory for the Democrats.

  • California: Bless their little hearts for trying, but this race has simply never been that close despite the best efforts of the right to say so. Obama won this state by over a million votes. Boxer should be able to hang on by a few thousand.

  • Washington: Murray has a slim lead in the polls heading into the final turn. That combines with two factors – the liberal tendencies of the state and the meatheadedness of GOP opponent Dino Rossi – to favor Murray. Her lead has never been large but it has been consistent.

    And finally, the four Coin Flip races. I would not bet money on any of these. I would not even bet someone else's money on any of these. They are, with one exception, Too Close to Call in every sense of the phrase. I hate making predictions on these because so much will depend on turnout and the small number of late deciders. These races are close enough for just about any small change to matter.

  • Wisconsin: The numbers on this one aren't that close. Ron Johnson leads in the polls and you should probably bet money on him. But Feingold is good, and he got a very late boost by winning the endorsement of essentially every newspaper in the state over the past week. Ron Johnson has done everything possible to hurt his own chances, mostly by opening his mouth near cameras and reporters. The numbers say Johnson, but I'll take a risk and say that this race ends up breaking the GOP's heart. Feingold by a hair (Hold D).

  • Colorado: No clue on this one. None. It is as close to a statistical and qualitative tie as any race can be. Bennet is a bland, forgettable non-entity and Ken Buck is a raging asshole. Who wins when those two personality types face off? Based solely on Colorado's recent trend toward the left and Bennet's late break in the polls, I'll go with the incumbent with 0% confidence. This race comes down to turnout. Who is more organized, Colorado Springs or Boulder? Bennet by half a hair (Hold D).

  • Pennsylvania: Toomey has led throughout and PA is odd politically, with the old joke noting that it is Philly and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. My brain says I have to stick with Toomey on this one, but as close as this race has gotten (and given Obama's 10-point win in 2008) we can't look entirely shocked if Sestak pulls an upset. Toomey wins it (Pickup R).

  • Nevada: Good lord. Harry Reid is just awful. Sharron Angle is categorically insane. How is a voter to choose? Note the curious fact that nearly every poll shows a statistical tie and the distance between Reid and Angle is attributable entirely to a handful of Rasmussen polls that show her with 5-point leads. HMM. Angle could very well win this one given the number of A) lunatics and B) Midwestern retirees living in Nevada, but Reid may very well pull it out. Without Rasmussen's data, this race is a tie. FWIW. Angle by like 7 votes (Pickup R).

    So if Ed is right, that leaves the GOP with a pickup of five seats. I am probably wrong about Wisconsin, if the poll numbers are to be trusted, but odds that I am wrong about WI are as good as the odds of Reid prevailing in NV so it could be a wash. But my theory is, what fun would it be to make the same predictions as everyone else, just blindly following the polls? I'll go out on a limb and call Feingold an upset winner along with tight Democratic holds in Colorado, Illinois, and Washington.

    Final prediction: +5 GOP: 46 R, 52 D (+ 2 Independent Democrats)

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    SENATE 2010: TWO MONTHS OUT

    Posted in Election 2010 on September 9th, 2010 by Ed

    The Senate races are badly in need of an update, not only because it has been ages since the last ones but also because we finally know the full slate of nominees on both sides (excepting the GOP side of the Wisconsin race). The landscape looks much different today than it did back in April, and right off the bat I want to make a number of updates to reflect that:

    The Wisconsin race has turned into a competitive one owing to the conservative lean of much of the non-urban portion of the state and the generally unfavorable environment for Democrats. The biggest thing working against the GOP in the Badger State is that both of their contenders are nobodies. The Feingold-Tommy Thompson matchup never materialized and we're left with two no-name businessmen to duke it out in the 9/14/10 primary. Most analysts have this as a toss-up but given the weak competition I have some confidence that Feingold will hold on.

    Worse news for the Democrats: Blanche Lincoln (AR) appears to be toast and Evan Bayh's old seat (IN) is highly likely to change hands. Those are two good pickups for the GOP, and I will not be shocked to see the DNC, DSCC, and other funding sources cutting their losses on these two races soon. On the plus side for the Socialists, Dick Blumenthal appears to have the CT open seat well in hand, thanks in part to the tremendous crapulence of GOP nominee Linda McMahon, wife of WWF chairman/wrestler Vince McMahon. That should be a safe hold, and the Delaware race for Biden's open seat is less of a certain GOP pickup at this stage.

    One race with the potential to get very interesting is in Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski has launched a write-in campaign in response to her narrow primary loss to Teabagger Joe Miller. Dividing the conservative vote could have disastrous results, opening the door for unknown Democrat Scott McAdams.

    That is about the extent of the Democratic good news, however. The updated uncompetitive/safe races yield a three-seat pickup for the GOP:

    The competitive races illustrate the problem with something I tried for the sake of simplicity this year: limiting races to two categories, either competitive or safe. In reality there are competitive races and there are races that are truly too close to call. Those are the four toss-ups you see here. The rest of the races are leaning pretty clearly one way or another (excepting Pennsylvania, which I'll explain in a moment).

    Current polling shows Toomey with a decent lead over Sestak in PA, but I still have that one as a Democratic hold because of the exceptionally poor track record of Pennsylvania Republicans in the last few elections. Whether it's McCain choosing PA to make his 300-esque last stand or polls predicting Rick Santorum's re-election, statewide Republicans just don't seem to do as well as predicted lately. The state is just too urban for Republicans to have an easy go of it, although motivating 2008-like voter turnout is a pipe dream in the midterm.

    With the GOP likely to pick up two from this bunch (the aforementioned AR and IN seats) that gives the GOP a five-seat gain with four toss-ups. If they win all four the Senate will be 50-50, generously counting anal warts like Lieberman and Ben Nelson as Democrats. The Democrats also must contend with the potential for those two corrupt little bastards to switch parties if the would-be GOP leadership offers them something useful.

    From the Democratic perspective, the key over the next two months will be to throw everything at Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, and Missouri. Delaware is the most Republican-leaning of the coin flip races, and Mike Castle is a quality opponent. Washington is the safest bet, and Colorado can probably be held at tremendous cost. In Missouri, Roy Blunt's lead in the polls withers under the inviolable rule of Missouri politics: never bet against a Carnahan. That one will remain too close to call until the bitter end, most likely.

    In future updates I'll focus more on the specifics of the four toss-ups plus Pennsylvania. For now, if everything goes right for the GOP the Senate will be 50-50. With anything less than a total collapse from the Democrats, the more likely outcome is 51 to 53 Republicans the morning after the election.

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    SYLVESTER MATUSCHKA

    Posted in Election 2010 on September 1st, 2010 by Ed

    CNN's Erick Erickson is at half-mast:

    We hear more of the same from Dick Morris, who reminds me quite a bit of Gollum lately ("There's going to be a government shutdown, just like in '95 and '96 but we're going to win it this time and I'll be fightin' on your side!") Oh Dick, you populist seven-figure Beltway operative!

    See, this is why people of the Erickson/Beck ideological persuasion are terrible people. It's not because we're elitists who believe that everyone who disagrees with us is a terrible person. It is precisely because they get off on nihilism. People who cared about the country A) probably wouldn't consider something as draconian and stupid as a "government shutdown" and B) if so, would treat it like an unfortunate necessity. "There is no other option," they would solemnly say, "except to grind the gears of government to a halt." With a heavy heart they would injure the country in order to save it. They would be wrong, of course, but at least their intentions would be good.

    Instead they behave like a bunch of 14 year-olds at a UFC match. DUDE THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME, I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL WE GET TO BE OBSTRUCTIONIST ASSHOLES! DUDE, DUDE, TRY THESE NACHOS! They are getting wood at the mere thought of making people suffer and breaking things. This is what excites them. These are the kind of people who, as children, torture animals for pleasure. And as adults they get a kick out of the death penalty and bomb-camera footage on The Military Channel.

    Don't forget, they haven't even won anything yet. They're rock hard because of a mid-August generic poll. Are they going to have a good year? Of course. The country is still a mess and the economy hasn't improved since the last election, so we have every reason to expect voters to drunkenly lurch back and forth between the parties in a desperate search for a solution. Should they be behaving as though they're already in power? (Well, since the majority party does whatever they say I guess we can't blame them for that.) Hmm. God help them if they don't take the House; if the best they can do after two solid years of absolute hysteria is chip away some seats from the majority, they're in trouble. And if they do gain power, what do they expect to happen after two years of accomplishing absolutely nothing?

    These people are not just mean, prone to making bad decisions, and slavishly adherent to a very silly set of ideological beliefs. They are sick. And now that they smell blood, their masks are slipping off.

    (PS: To cure the suspense, Sylvester Matuschka was a Hungarian mass-murderer who sabotaged trains and was sexually aroused by watching them derail and explode. He springs to mind every time I see a Republican talk about what the party intends to do with a majority.)

    MARCEL DUCHAMP vs. HARRY REID

    Posted in Election 2010 on June 23rd, 2010 by Ed

    Watch and listen to the following and tell me if you think this sounds like A) a serious, major-party candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada or B) Dadaist performance art, a parody of the worst possible candidate in the history of electoral politics extending her middle finger to voters and practically daring them to vote for her.

    This is like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross running for the Senate. "You're all spoiled, lazy assholes. Jobs are for closers. What's my name? Fuck you, that's my name." Angle is telling voters in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation – take that, Michigan! – that the root of the problem lies in their slothfulness and sense of entitlement. "Spoiled", that's what they are.

    Let's investigate those claims, momentarily suspending disbelief and pretending that someone like Angle would choose her words based on readily available data.

    Nevada's unemployment program is unremarkable, calculating benefits using the same "High Quarter" method employed (see what I did there?) by the majority of states. Using the most recent data I could find, a report from February 2010, the 2009 average weekly benefit ($305) and average duration of benefit (16 weeks) were both within 1% of the national average.

    $305 weekly would be $7.62/hr assuming a standard 40 hour work week. The minimum wage is set by state law in Nevada at $7.55. At 40 hours that would produce $302 before taxes. So the unemployment benefits spoiling the hell out of Nevadans paid a premium of $3 over minimum wage – for about four months. On July 1 the minimum wage increases to $8.26 in Nevada, meaning that unemployment will pay the equivalent of about $30 per week less than what the most feebly compensated hourly workers will make.

    In other words, unemployment benefits in Nevada do pretty much what they are intended to do: provide short term, subsistence level income for people who have been involuntarily separated from their jobs. Perhaps Sharron Angle should be prepared to tell us the proper level at which benefits should be set in order to properly encourage people to work. Perhaps a maximum benefit of $100 per week, paid in a moldy onion sack full of quarters placed atop a tall, greased flagpole, would provide the right incentive. If the issue is that the dole and menial jobs pay essentially the same, why are we supposed to jump to the conclusion that the welfare state is too generous? It is far more relevant to ask why all of these jobs our elected officials are telling us to take pay wages that barely cross the poverty line.

    "Logic" like Angle's takes me back to my childhood, to lectures from brainwashed Reaganites about how poor people were just lazy and the problem was that welfare paid them a six-figure salary to sit on their asses enjoying their big screen TVs and bouncing cars and all those other silly things that negroes like (All unemployed people were black). It has been a while since we've been blessed with a politician sufficiently disconnected from reality to make this argument in the middle of a double-dip recession in a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. We should bottle Sharron Angle – to preserve her special essence, not to deprive her of oxygen. We need to keep her talking, as she appears to be another gift that will keep on giving.

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    STRANGE CURRENCIES

    Posted in Election 2010 on May 18th, 2010 by Ed

    Life and the job market have established that I'm not worth a whole lot and I generally lack useful knowledge or skills, but I know a thing or two about polling – at least enough to recognize something funny going on. And the disconnect between the current dominant media narrative and some of the numbers we're seeing looks an awful lot like shenanigans.

    First, looking at the generic Congressionals you'd hardly know that for the past year the media have breathlessly covered TEA PARTY!!11!! and the impending GOP revolution:

    Hmm. Now, generics are among the least useful polls, mostly because of Fenno's Paradox – people disapprove of Congress but keep re-electing their own Congressman. More broadly, the phenomenon means that expressing generic preferences for a party doesn't tell us who these poll respondents will actually vote for in their own district. With 95% of incumbents being re-elected in recent years, it's more likely than not that a person's generic preference and actual vote are poorly correlated. Nonetheless, if there was some sort of "revolution" brewing, I have to imagine that we'd see slightly more favorable numbers for the GOP. We're five months out and they're losing to the generic Democrats.

    Second, a lot of the numbers coming out of Rasmussen are supporting the theory that they are going the way of Zogby and making the purposeful transition from legitimate pollsters to GOP Propaganda Services. This year they have been the only agency – like, literally the only one – consistently showing Rubio in the lead in Florida. Even when other agencies were showing Crist winning a three-way matchup, Rasmussen had Rubio up 20. That makes absolutely no sense. Variance among polls is expected but not on the order of 20% unless one of the parties involved is seriously off the scent. Check this out (all Rasmussen):

    5/3/10 500 LV
    Rubio 34%
    Meeks 17%
    Crist 38%
    Undecided 11%

    13 days later:

    5/16/10 500 LV
    Rubio 39%
    Meeks 18%
    Crist 31%
    Undecided 12%

    And while that was happening:

    Rubio Favorability

    04/21/10 Rasmussen
    Favorable 52%
    Unfavorable 37%

    5/16/20
    Favorable 46%
    Unfavorable 43%

    And…

    Crist Favorability

    04/21/10 Rasmussen
    Favorable 55%
    Unfavorable 40%

    5/16/20
    Favorable 57%
    Unfavorable 41%

    So his favorables fell 6% as he was taking the lead away from Crist in the head-to-head (to head) matchup. I've been to two county fairs and a live Carrot Top show, and this is the dumbest thing I've ever seen.

    The problem inherent to Rasmussen (and every other agency, to some degree) is their bizarre, proprietary "likely voter" model. You can basically make a poll result look however you want by carefully parsing the definition of a LV. Rasmussen's LV model was disastrously wrong in 2008, as it was structured around the assumption that only old, white Republicans actually show up. I'm willing to bet that they're doing something similar here. If the electorate is defined as geriatric teabaggers, Rubio's going to look pretty good. Maybe the gamble will pay off for Rasmussen – midterm turnout is unpredictable and their guess may be as good as any regarding who is actually going to show up for this thing. Maybe it will be nothing but teabaggers. Maybe it won't.

    I remain 100% convinced that this will be a year of Republican gains, but the numbers trickling in as the election heats up are wildly inconsistent with a sweeping Republican victory. Anti-incumbency might be the closest thing to a theme this year (just ask Bob Bennett, Arlen Specter, or Blanche Lincoln). Whatever happens, the teabaggers will declare victory but their Glenn Beck approved candidates have done horribly thus far. Defeating Bennett in the Utah primary was probably the first victory they can claim, and even that was probably unrelated to his opponents' Teabag credentials.

    As expected, we're starting to see a little bit of a pullback from the GOP high water mark after the Scott Brown MA special election victory, after which gasbags were predicting a GOP takeover of both chambers of Congress. Predictions are getting a little more muted and a number of Democratic Senate candidates are not quite as dead as previously claimed. They'd actually be in great shape if they could re-energize the base that came out in droves in 2008. The odds of that happening without a major legislative victory apart from a confusing, watered-down health care bill are quite slim.

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    SENATE 2010: COMPETITIVE RACES

    Posted in Election 2010 on April 14th, 2010 by Ed

    I decided to simplify things a bit for 2010, dividing the races into two basic categories (uncompetitive and competitive) for starters. Given how meaningless predictions are this far in advance of the elections, there's no benefit to trying to be more parsimonious until more information is available. Information such as the names of the candidates in a lot of races. You know, things of minor importance like that.

    Last time around we introduced the uncompetitive races. There are 18 of those and they will produce a net gain of 1 seat for the GOP (the Dorgan retirement in North Dakota will be a cakewalk for GOP Governor John Hoeven). That leaves a very symmetrical 18 races in the competitive category. There is a lot of variance in this group, from just a bit competitive to too close to call. They will sort themselves out as the election progresses. Here they are with preliminary predictions:

    A couple of these are particularly likely to get interesting. The open seat in Ohio may end up being the closest call in this election. Portman is a strong GOP candidate but his party is still a damaged brand name in the state. Neither of the Democratic candidates are great. However, the nominee (probably Brunner) will have a real chance to win. This will come down to turnout and how well the bases are motivated.

    All of the previous statements about Ohio are doubly true in Illinois. Those races are eerily similar – popular young GOP Congressman running against mediocre Democrats in states in which the playing field is tilted to the left at the moment. I will believe a Republican winning a statewide race in Illinois when I see it, though, and not a second sooner.

    I think the Florida race could become a wild one. If Charlie Crist was the nominee he would waltz to victory. However, he is down 20-30 points to Teabagger icon Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. That's great for winning the nomination, but there is a legitimate possibility that he's too nutty to win the general election. Kendrick Meek is not a strong opponent. This election, however, is going to be less about Rubio vs. Meek and more about Rubio vs. Rubio. Can he convince people he is a normal, quasi-mainstream politician or will he Teabag his way into oblivion? Rubio has the early lead; let's see how he does with more exposure.

    Pennsylvania will be very competitive, especially if Sestak unseats non-Democrat Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination. Colorado seems to be trending Republican but the party (as is always the case) can't even find a decent nominee to run against weak incumbent Michael Bennet. I have Missouri going blue simply because I've learned over the years never to bet against a Carnahan in that state. Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln are both in big trouble, but incumbency is a powerful thing. At the very least, I think those races will get a lot closer than they are at the moment.

    Is anyone else getting disproportionately excited? No? I guess that's just me.

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