Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Is Bush losing minorities? 

In my search for something, anything non-convention-related on the blogs, I finally found this post by Andrew Sullivan, entitled "Bush Loses Minorities." His data comes from this Annenberg study. I don't think Sullivan is deliberately misrepresenting the data, but I disagree with his conclusions. If you look at the numbers he cites, African-Americans are split almost exactly as they were in 2000, while both parties have made gains among Hispanic voters: registered Democrats increased from 39% to 45%, and registered Republicans increased from 21% to 24%. It's true that Democrats increased twice as much as Republicans (6% vs. 3%), but that's really a wash when you consider that there were nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans to begin with!

The changes in minority voter registration do not work to the advantage of either party. But the study goes on to show that since 2000, Republicans have made considerable gains in registration among white evangelicals and born-again Christians, a group larger than blacks and Hispanics combined. Sullivan concludes:

It's important to understand that this was a deliberate choice by Rove: to increase the base before you reach out to others. He has been successful. And Bush may lose because of it.

On the contrary, I'd say it was a pretty good move on Rove's part. He has increased his base considerably without losing any ground among minorities. Bush may lose, but it won't because of this.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Top 5 convention quotes 

5. "Since most Americans aren't that far to the right, our friends have to portray us Democrats as simply unacceptable, lacking in strength and values. In other words, they   need a divided America. But we don't." -Bill Clinton

4. "Let's make sure not only that the Supreme Court does not pick the next president, but also that this president is not the one who picks the next Supreme Court." - Al Gore

3. "We had confidence that our leaders, military and civilian, would not put our soldiers and sailors in harm's way by initiating 'wars of choice'" -Jimmy Carter

2. "Now, everybody talks about John Edwards' energy and intellect and charisma. You know, I kind of resent him. " -Bill Clinton

1. "Their opponents will tell you we should be afraid of John Kerry and John Edwards, because they won't stand up to the terrorists. Don't you believe it.  Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.  They go hand in hand, and John Kerry has both." - Bill Clinton

Is Bill Clinton a good speaker or what?

Sunday, July 25, 2004

New election odds 

I just updated the Tradesports odds, and Bush's reelection chances are down to a flat 50%, which is almost an all-time low (it briefly went as low as 49.5%). I'm not sure what caused the change. The polls don't seem to have changed dramatically. It could just be the selection of Edwards and pre-convention excitement. In that case, I'd say this is a pretty good moment to go long on Bush. But maybe I missed some political news while I was away. I did catch Tom Ridge's announcement a few weeks ago about there being a "significant chance of a terrorist attack before the election." Okay, so clearly this was an attempt to steal media attention from the Edwards nomination announcement. But I found it strange that Ridge would refer so explicitly to the election. It almost sounded like a Freudian slip: we're warning you about an attack, but what we really have on our minds is the election. Why not convey the same idea by saying "before the end of the year" or "before Labor Day"?

The fact that Ridge specifically said "before the election" means one of two things. Either he has specific intelligence indicating that Al Qaeda might be trying to disrupt the November elections with a terrorist attack, or the Bush campaign has decided to use the possibility of an attack as a scare tactic. Without more information it's very hard to decide which is the case. It pretty much boils down to just how evil you think the Bush people are.

Earlier I wrote about how the chance of an orange alert (again, according to Tradesports) on October 31st, two days before the election, was 41%, more than double the chance for the last day of any other month. That figure, now 40%, has hardly changed. Since the Ridge announcement, the figures for September and November have increased slightly. The biggest change has been the chance of a red alert in October, which grew from 4.5% to 7.0%. Still, the changes are not as significant as you might expect from such a major announcement like the one Ridge made. Here's the new chart:

Month Chance of red alert Chance of orange alert
July 3.5% 12%
August 3.0% 18%
September 3.0% 25%
October 7.0% 40%
November 5.0% 20%
December 4.0% 20%

The fact that the odds didn't change much after Ridge's announcement causes me to lean toward the second explanation: that the Bush campaign is merely playing politics with the terror alert system. If traders on Tradesports thought Ridge was speaking on the basis of real intelligence, the odds should have moved more dramatically.

Back in Berkeley 

Just got back from a stint of traveling (France, Italy and Alaska were the highlights), and I'm still playing catch-up with the news, but I want to recommend two Atlantic Monthly articles I read on the plane ride back from Anchorage. In the first article, James Fallows warns not to underestimate Bush's debating ability. The man thrives on being (mis?)underestimated. In his 1994 campaign for Texas Governor, Bush agreed to only one debate with incumbent Ann Richards. His campaign worked very hard to lower expectations, pointing out that Richards had gone to college on a debate scholarship and generally implying that Bush was no match for her.

In fact, George W. performed astonishingly well in that debate, deftly turning every question into a reiteration of his core message. Fallows, who watched a tape of the debate, says he was surprised by Bush's eloquence. I was skeptical. Eloquence? That doesn't sound like our president. But before you can cry biased reporting, Fallows admits he is baffled by the contrast between the eloquent Bush of 1994 and the confused muddler of today. Could it be lack of preparation, he wonders? Bush is evidently capable of inspiring speech when he is well-prepared. It's the unexpected questions that catch him off guard. Or perhaps the Bush campaign is deliberately trying to create an image of the president that will induce people to underestimate him. Part of the secret to Bush's "victories" in his debates vs. Richards in 1994 and Gore in 2000 was a skillful lowering of expectations. When everyone expected Bush to fall apart facing champion debaters like Richards and Gore, even a mediocre performance could be spun as a victory.

Sometimes it can be hard to resist making fun of Bush's seeming lack of intelligence or abilities. But in doing so, we may be playing right into the hands of his reelection campaign by helping convince ourselves and others to underestimate the president. Let's not make the same mistake that the Richards and Gore campaigns made. Kerry should walk into the debates ready for a tough fight. He should treat George W. as if he were the same caliber opponent as William Weld in 1996. If Bush turns out to be an easier opponent, so much the better.

In the other excellent piece in this month's Atlantic, Benjamin Wittes presents a very balanced view of the issue of American citizens designated "enemy combatants"and prosecuted under the Patriot Act. For the first time, I understand where the people on the other side of this issue are coming from. That's not to say that I agree with them. If the president is to be given the right to designate American citizens as enemy combatants, allowing them to be detained indefinitely without being charged, at the very least the "enemy combatant" status should be subject to judicial review, and the person detained should have access to a lawyer.

What really surprised me was that John Ashcroft comes across as taking the middle ground on this issue. Although Justice Department lawyers are obligated to take a hard line, arguing that "enemy combatants" are not entitled to legal counsel and that enemy combatant status cannot be reviewed by a court without compromising sensitive information, Wittes claims that Ashcroft is uncomfortable with this extreme stance, and reluctantly takes this position only because of pressure from the Pentagon. Even if Wittes is right, it doesn't relieve Ashcroft of responsibility for a litany of other attacks on our civil liberties, including his sponsorship of the Patriot Act, permitting investigators to spy on library records and lawyer-client conversations, not to mention his role in drafting the far worse Patriot Act II. Still, if Wittes is right, it's comforting to know that even John Ashcroft is not a complete authoritarian, and that his seemingly boundless contempt for constitutional law has its limits.

The bad news is that neither of these Atlantic pieces is available online, and the print issue is a steep $5.95. I paid up because I was desperate for some reading material on the plane. In retrospect, it was probably worth the price. We're spoiled by the amount of free information on the internet, but for the best information, sometimes you have to pay.

UPDATE: (hat tip to sid on Kos) The Fallows piece is still available online: it's not on the Atlantic site, but here's Google's cache.

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