Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America

Voters cast their ballot.

Voting rights. Photo courtesy of BackStory. PD.

Did Tuesday’s election revive questions about America’s voting system, voter turnout, and how they have changed over time? This week’s episode of BackStory with the American History Guys provides an interesting election debrief—delving deeper into questions that would otherwise be forgotten until 2016. “Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America” addresses questions about the Electoral College, voter fraud, undecided voters, election reform, and volunteerism—which paint a picture of the political atmosphere in various periods of American history.

The American History Guys (a.k.a. Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers and the Miller Center’s own Brian Balogh), and their guests, Alexander Keyssar, Mark Summers, and Jamie Raskin, start out their Election Day special with a look at a very different kind of political climate: one where politics was a loud, public affair in which “pass[ing] out the booze” was as important giving a Stump speech.

Recent Voter ID laws look particularly exceptional in the context of the history of non-citizen voting, as explained by Raskin, a Professor of Law at American University. According to Raskin, there is an “incredible buried history of white, male, property-owning, non-citizens voting. The supporting argument is a logical one: these non-citizens have a stake in society (especially at the local level), and voting is a mutually beneficial avenue toward assimilation. The practice continued up until World War I—when states began passing laws against alien suffrage.

Virginia’s Role as a Demographic Bellweather in the Presidential Election

Barack Obama addressing a crowd at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in 2008.

Barack Obama addressing a crowd at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in 2008. Photo by SyalAntilles. CC-SA.

Is Virginia becoming a “blue state”? Although Virginians voted solidly Republican in every presidential election from 1968 through 2004, voters in the state backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. As 2012 exit polling has demonstrated, the demographics of Obama’s coalition played an important role in his reelection. According to University of Virginia experts,  demographic shifts in Virginia also played a role in delivering the state to the Democrats in the last two elections.

Miller Center Faculty Member and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance and chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics David Leblang had this to say:

The 2012 and 2008 elections have been really interesting in terms of the power of demography over ideology.

As a former resident of Colorado, I witnessed that state transition from being a red state in 2000 to purple and then blue in 2008 and 2012. Virginia is going through the same shift. In both cases, the shift is driven by what look like small blue pockets on national county-by-county election maps. Those blue pockets look small geographically, but they are densely populated areas, like Denver and the Front Range cities of Colorado, and the Northern Virginia exurban counties of Loudoun and Prince William.

What do the people look like in those blue pockets? In general, they are younger, more highly skilled, less white and less male than rest of the state. So that is the challenge for the Republican Party – how to appeal to those groups.

People become increasingly conservative as they get older, while younger people tend to be more liberal for a whole number of reasons. So how do Republicans package an emphasis on fiscal responsibility in a way that appeals to younger voters who are not yet wealthy enough to benefit from the type of tax breaks that Romney emphasized in this campaign? They have work to do, just like the Democrats did after the 2000 and 2004 elections.

A Grueling Duel to the End - Now Let the Votes Be Counted

Early voting center at Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center in Rockville, Maryland. October 28, 2012. Photo by Ben Schumin

Early voting center at Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center in Rockville, Maryland. October 28, 2012. Photo by Ben Schumin. CC-BY-SA-3.0.

President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney—along with their myriad surrogates, advisors and official and unofficial campaign wingmen—worked deep in the final night of the contentious 2012 campaign spinning predictions for the outcome of today’s election, preparing for the blame game that will follow bitter disappointment certain for millions who vote for the losing candidate, and making a frantic final scramble for votes.

For months, this race was described as a grueling duel between candidates who each were viewed less than enthusiastically by even their own base of supporters—a grinding battle of attrition by two flawed and not-so-inspiring men. Yet in the last days and hours of the campaign, something very different appeared to be happening. As Romney, Obama and their allies raced through a whirlwind of appearances across the key battleground states, the campaign transformed as they were by raucous crowds of often staggering size.

Romney closed his day in New Hampshire before more than 12,000 ecstatic supporters. Earlier, the Republican made aswift visit to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, part of a last ditch effort to put in play the 20 electoral votes held by a state long assumed to be solidly in the Democratic column. He was greeted by a crowd of 30,000, according to local reporters.

Obama finished the night in Iowa, in an emotional gathering before 20,000 during which, in the style of his late-campaign partner, former President Bill Clinton, he reportedly shed a single tear.  Earlier, the president spoke to 20,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin. That was on the heels of a Virginia rally late Saturday with a crowd of more than 24,000 people. (Notably, the other most recent ex-president, Republican George W. Bush, remained to the last hour as he has been throughout this election year—completely invisible.)

On both sides of the race, advocates for the candidates made dramatic claims that the huge gatherings of supporters and other signs demonstrated that the electorate was breaking their direction—that victory was certain.  Michael Barone, an editorial writer for the conservative Washington Examiner, pronounced that Romney was on his way to a stunning 315 electoral vote victory. That tally included a sweep of not just both Florida and Virginia (where polls have shown the candidate with razor thin leads), but also in most states where surveys put him meaningfully behind—Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Election’s Eve: Our Roundup of Some of the Key Issues

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012. Photo by Irina Lagunina, courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

Election’s Eve is finally upon us. Even after the longest presidential campaign in history, the two candidates and their running mates are scheduled to hold 14 events across eight states in the final hours. The current (as of 2 pm) Real Clear Politics average of twelve polls shows President Obama at 48.5 percent, with Mitt Romney closely following at 48.1 percent. Some have maintained this election is too close to call. Nate Silver puts the odds at 86 percent chance that President Obama will win the Electoral College. This morning, Larry Sabato and the Crystal Ball predicted that President Obama would likely win a second term. Here at Riding the Tiger, we aren’t the prediction business, but we have been following the election closely throughout year and weighing in with historical analysis and commentary. In this post, we highlight some of the more salient issues in the election, as well as some issues the candidates didn’t address but we wish they had.

Friday Round-up: All or Nothing

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

  1. It’s the economy, stupid! The final jobs report before the election was issued this morning and the presidential campaigns have already incorporated the findings into their talking points even though the report is unlikely to make a difference with just four days remaining. Employers reported adding 171,000 jobs in October, which was better than expected and better than September (148,000).  The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent, up from 7.8 percent, but the reason behind the increase was that more people counted themselves as looking for work.
  2. Disaster Politics. Mitt Romney suspended campaigning on Monday and Tuesday, while Barack Obama didn’t return to campaigning until Thursday due to Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane also interrupted early voting efforts in affected states, though not in Ohio. Sandy appears to be benefitting Obama, at least at the margins.  According to the latest release of the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, President Obama received high marks for his response to Hurricane Sandy. Nearly eight in ten likely voters think the President did an “excellent” or “good job” responding to the disaster. And finally climate disruption has entered the race, thanks to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Independent) who endorsed Obama in an op-ed in the wake of Sandy:

The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of next Tuesday's presidential election into sharp relief ... Our climate is changing. ... We need leadership from the White House.

Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie together surveyed storm-battered New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Romney ignored repeated questions from reporters regarding his position on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In a June 2011 CNN debate, Romney agreed that federal disaster response could be curtailed: “Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

Economic damages inflicted by Hurricane Sandy could reach $50 billion, according to the catastrophic risk modeling company Eqecat.

  1. According to the Center for Responsive Politics' new analysis of Federal Election Commission data, this election will likely cost $6 billion. The 2012 election will be the most expensive election in American history, with the cost exceeding the next most expensive election by more than $700 million.

Friday Feature: Bronco Bama and Mitt Romany

We couldn't resist. This video has been making the rounds this week and we here at the Miller Center couldn't agree more. Don't worry, Abby. Lots of us are crying. It'll be over soon. 

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history (or, in this case, presidential [very, very,] present).


The Consultant President

Mitt Romney, October 7, 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Mitt Romney speaking at the Values Voter Summit (Omni Shoreham Hotel) in Washington D.C. on October 7, 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC-SA.

Tony Lucadamo, Senior Editor at the Virginia Policy Review, contributes today's guest post, which explores whether Mitt Romney represents a new generation of consultancy leaders.

If you have not already, I encourage you to watch a recent PBS Frontline special on the Presidents entitled, “The Choice 2012.” The show’s season premiere takes an in-depth look at the backgrounds of both Presidential nominees. The most interesting point was this. Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker remarked:

It’s a little bit like a consulting engagement. You go in. You figure out what the problems are. You fix things. You make things more organized. Then you go on to the next challenge.

Romney’s senior advisors essentially concur in later statements. Their narrative runs like a private equity assignment. He presented a product – the socially liberal, fiscally conservative Governor -- which he thought would meet demand. He then did what he could given a Democratic-controlled State legislature. In particular, he picked the issue of healthcare and made it the main issue of his four years in office.

Yet, in many ways, this alternate method is nothing new. Certainly, populism has been around for a long time. Governor Romney's Profile is perhaps an evolution of the executive-centered, efficiency-minded values that took root in the Progressive Era combined with a populism gleaned through the lens of modern business. The service sector constitutes an increasing proportion of U.S. GDP with each passing year. In that case, it should come as no surprise that this new generation of leaders is upon us. Men and women who have built their careers in private equity and consulting may increasingly seek to transfer their skills into politics. There is equal fodder for both pessimists and optimists in that case.

Continue reading this post at the Virginia Policy Review.


The Agony of Victory: Behind the Scenes on Election Night

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the 1964 presidential election night with reporters.

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the 1964 presidential election night with reporters. The president shows the Victory-Sign following his landslide election victory against republican candidate Barry Goldwater. November 3, 1964. Photo by Cecil Stoughton, PD.

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have campaigned formally for the better part of a year. When this election is over, the total amount spent by their campaigns or on their behalf will approach $2 billion. They have traveled with few reprieves, been coached for debates, and endured attacks from television advertising (which has been 87% negative overall). And, once it is finished, Obama or Romney will have to move past it—and presumably, govern.

With Election Day just one week away, we wondered how previous candidates have reacted and felt to the culmination of the campaign season. We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center and found phone conversations that provide a glimpse of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon on the eve of victory. Given the years LBJ and Nixon would endure following their success on election night, we are reminded that being up on the mountain and riding the tiger are each their own agony. Impending victory did not bring instant relief for Johnson and Nixon. Instead, election night conversations centered on the nerve of the opponent, the absence of complete victory, and one “sore hip.” This profoundly humanizing fact sheds light on the impending winner of November 6th, 2012.

Responder-in-Chief: Presidential Leadership and Disaster Politics

President Lyndon B. Johnson addresses members of the press while deplaning in New Orleans.

President Lyndon B. Johnson addresses members of the press while deplaning in New Orleans to survey damage done by Hurricane Betsy. September 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto. Courtesy LBJ Library, PD.

Hurricane Sandy is threatening millions on the East Coast and dominating the headlines and airwaves. With just eight days until the election, Sandy is also impacting the presidential campaign. Both presidential campaigns have canceled planned stops and are urging people in affected states to take precautions. Some may find the change in tone, even if forced by disaster, a relief. Rather than bashing each other non-stop, the candidates are more focused on demonstrating leadership in the face of a disaster, showing concern and empathizing with those in harm’s way. Hurricane Sandy is no doubt a test of leadership for both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. However, as the head of government, the President will be particularly challenged with the responsibility for how the government responds. However, the President has not always held the role of “Responder-in-Chief.”

The greater transformation of the public’s expectation for presidential response to disasters is rooted more broadly in the development of the permanent campaign. Amidst the height of the presidential campaign in 1972, Richard Nixon was criticized for his response to Hurricane Agnes that affected the Atlantic states, especially Pennsylvania, New York and Northern Virginia. Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Milton Shapp, Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern and others seized on the opportunity to sharply criticize Nixon for what they called the government’s incompetent response. Nixon moved quickly to mitigate the damage, but was only able to do so when he took the reins and choreographed the government’s response from the White House. If not for the campaign season and the politicization of the government’s response, we may not have seen a broader expansion of the President’s role of “Responder-in-Chief.”

Friday Round-Up 10/26: The Final Stage

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012. Photo by Irina Lagunina, courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

  1. The most recent Rasmussen poll has the number of undecided voters at 2%. Setting aside Saturday Night Live’s recent parody of those few remaining, who are those undecideds? What are their common characteristics? Katharine Seelye of the New York Times offers a picture of the “waitress Mom” voter: a woman who voted for President Obama in 2008, who is dissatisfied with his first term, and equally dissatisfied with the Republican alternative. Colloquially, she is no longer a “soccer mom,” to reflect a general decline in her quality of life since the late 1990s. As Jen Doll of The Atlantic notes, Seelye’s piece offers a picture of a particular kind of woman, and is not all inclusive of the female swing vote--which underscores the fact that labels like “soccer mom” have less meaning as the female electorate fragments, defying simple categorization and the phenomenon of single-issue voting.
  2. In an originally “off the record” interview with the Des Moines Register, President Obama said that in his second term he would attempt to work out a “grand bargain” with Republicans to address issues like immigration and the national debt. Obama’s ambiguous second-term agenda has been a source of criticism throughout the campaign. NPR’s Alan Greenblatt asks the simple, most direct question regarding the issue: “What would President Obama do with a second term?” In a piece that compares Obama to Woodrow Wilson, Michael Barone makes the point that the lack of specifics frees Obama’s agenda of constraints--a source of potential unease. The Des Moines interview also showed a rare glimpse of the President talking shop about the campaign: “Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win [...] is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
  3. The Wesleyan Media Project found that the number of aired political ads this election cycle has increased 44% since 2008 (from 637,000 to 915,000). The total campaign expenditure on television advertising may reach $2 billion. Kantar Media CMAG found that 87% of ads this time around have a negative tone. NPR notes that it is unclear how cost-effective the ads are at actually persuading voters, but “as long as there is one more voter out there to be persuaded, the ad wars [...] will continue.”
  4. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball predicted as of yesterday that Republicans would maintain control of the House, despite losing a few seats. The prediction ended with the claim that Democratic control of the House was no longer among the possible scenarios worth considering--a further sign that the field of possible outcomes is narrowing as the race enters its final stage.
  5. President Obama received two high-profile endorsements this past week. Colin Powell endorsed Obama on CBS Thursday morning. In 2008, Powell famously broke partisan ranks and endorsed Obama--when asked if he was still a Republican, he answered in the affirmative, adding that moderates like him were a “dying breed.” Ken Burns, who criticized Romney after the first debate for his stance on public broadcasting, formally endorsed Obama, writing, “Like FDR, Obama has walked us back from the brink.”

Miller Center Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis

President Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office.

President Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office. The President knows but does not reveal that he is now aware of the missile build-up. October 18, 1962. Photo courtesy of The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, PD.

On Monday, the Miller Center hosted a Forum to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Heather Michon blogged about the panel on Knowing Charlottesville. The panel revealed that the Cuban Missile Crisis was much more than a stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the opening of Soviet and Cuban archives has revealed that President John F. Kennedy was much more willing to negotiate than previously understood by the public. As Marc Selverstone put it, “Diplomacy, not force, turned the tide.” Castro was also kept in dark about back channel negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet Union. While Americans moved on from the terror of the crisis fairly quickly, the shadow of those October days lingered over Cuban-Soviet relations for decades.

Read on for Heather’s full summary of the Forum.

“Foreign Policy” Debate Roundup

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the foreign policy presidential debate. October 22, 2012. Photo by Irina Lagunina, courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

The final presidential debate, intended to be on the subject of foreign policy, was held last evening at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Below are some highlights and lowlights from the debate.

Snap polls say? According to a CNN-ORC snap poll, 48 percent of voters said President Obama won, while 40 percent said Mitt Romney did. In the CBS snap poll of uncommitted voters, 53 percent said Obama won, 24 percent said Romney did, and another 24 percent called it a tie. A Google snap poll gave Obama a ten percent advantage. However, as Nate Silver points out, Obama is not likely to get as much of a bounce because voters have more information now than they did before the first debate and because most people were watching Monday Night Football and baseball games. That being said, in such a close election, even a small bounce could help the President.

Oh, snap! When Romney repeated his previously used line that the Navy is smaller now than at any time since World War I, Obama was prepared with a sarcastic retort: “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.” Google searches for the term “bayonets” spiked 7215% during the debate. Fact check: the U.S. Army still uses bayonets.

Didn’t take the bait. Although the first debate question raised the September 11 terrorist attacks in Libya, Romney preferred to forego the opportunity to attack President Obama’s handling of the situation. This came as a surprise to many in the commentariat who had anticipated that the issue would be rehashed once again. I personally was relieved that the candidates found other foreign policy issues to discuss, even though I was disappointed they didn’t address important issues and countries such as multilateralism, NATO, Europe, countries other than China in East Asia, and India.

Moving Beyond Benghazi Moment

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012. Photo courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

Tonight’s final presidential debate could come down to one topic: Libya.

Those who watched the town hall-style presidential debate on Ocotber 16 saw the preamble. The question posed was this:

This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

In short, the questioner (Kerry Ladka of Mineola, NY) wanted to know who made the decision to forego additional security measures prior to the recent terrorist attack. And, as the Washington Post rightly points out, the President essentially ducked the question.

President Obama first rallied to the defense of his diplomats, going so far as to say he knew their families. Next, he refocused the subject to highlight a questionable Republican rush to accuse in the fallout.

Friday Round-up: Party Bosses

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

  1. Polling Week: The most up-to-date RealClearAverage of polls gives Romney a slight edge (2.6%). The most recent Rasmussen Poll, conducted during the three days since the debate, shows a national 48-48 tie, with 2% undecided. This differs from Gallup’s most recent poll, which was conducted over a week-long period, and shows Romney ahead 52-45. Could the Rasmussen poll be an early sign of the effect of the debate? Another Rasmussen poll reports that Romney has “hit the 50% mark in Virginia.” Despite gains in other battleground states, the national polls could be a misleading indicator of outcome, given that Romney has gained significant ground in states he is unlikely to win, like California. Additionally, the validity of the polls continue to be questioned--statistician Nate Silver, for example, pointed out that when Gallup is the outlier, it has often performed poorly. Silver’s FiveThirtyEight forecast, which aggregates national polls, still gives Obama a slight edge in the Electoral College and a 71.6% chance to win the election.  In a memo, the Obama campaign also challenged Gallup’s poll indicating a tie between the candidates among women voters in battleground states.
  2. Labor statistics in battleground states released today reveal mixed trends of continuity and change.


Battleground State



August Unemployment

September Unemployment













New Hampshire








North Carolina












Of these battleground states, only four had an unemployment rate below the national average of 7.8% (Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia); while five came in above the national average (Colorado, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina). Nevada has the highest unemployment rate of all 50 states. However, all of the swing states except Virginia saw a drop in unemployment, which has the possibility of contributing to more positive evaluations of the direction of the economy. As we’ve argued previously, it’s important to pay close attention to economic indicators, as well as to job approval and favorability ratings in these key states leading up to the election. While state-by-state information is not yet available, Real Clear Politics average shows Obama’s national approval rating is up, at 49.4%. On favorability, recent polls show Romney has gained quite a bit of ground. According to a Gallup Poll this week, voters are equally favorable to both candidates. A Pew Research Center poll from last week shows Romney is ahead of Obama by a point, 50 percent to 49 percent (for comparison, a March 2012 Pew poll found Obama had a 55% favorability rating compared to 29% for Romney).

Highlights and Lowlights from the Second Presidential Debate

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012. Photo courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

Last night President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced off in a town hall style debate with 100 undecided voters selected by Gallup. Below are some highlights and lowlights of the evening.

  1. Survey says? According to a CNN/ORC poll of registered voters, 46 percent thought Obama won, while 36 percent thought Romney won. A CBS News poll of undecided voters found 37 percent thought Obama won, while 30 percent said Romney did and 33 percent thought it was a tie. A Google Consumer Surveys poll of registered voters found 48 percent of registered voters saying Obama won, compared to 31 percent who said Romney won.
  2. The feistiness that marked the debate began before it even started when Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested in a failed attempt to attend the debate. Even though the Green Party candidates will be on an estimated 85 percent of ballots this election year, the Commission on Presidential Debates sets the bar at 15 percent in the polls for third party candidates to participate.
  3. In an attempt to close the gender gap and reach out to women, Mitt Romney likely accomplished the opposite when he uttered the buzz phrase of the evening –  “Binders full of women.” Romney said:

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our Cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks.’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.

The phrase has given birth to memes galore. Expect to see a lot of talk show jokes and Halloween costumes in the coming days.