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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

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.”

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

April

Unemployment

August Unemployment

September Unemployment

Colorado

7.9%

8.2%

8.0%

Florida

8.7%

8.8%

8.7%

Iowa

5.1%

5.5%

5.2%

New Hampshire

5.0%

5.7%

5.7%

Nevada

11.7%

12.1%

11.8%

North Carolina

9.4%

9.7%

9.6%

Ohio

7.4%

7.2%

7.0%

Virginia

5.6%

5.9%

5.9%

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).

Friday Roundup: Biden Strikes Back

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

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

  1. Pre-Debate Hype. The first presidential debate injected what may have been an anomalous vitality into last night’s vice-presidential debate. The RCP’s national average showed a swing of roughly 4 points (Obama -3, Romney +1), which caused commentators like Andrew Sullivan to lament and the Obama campaign to rally supporters. Both the Huffington Post and Daily Beast published articles that charged Biden with the task of settling the score.
  2. Two facts worth mentioning about the VP debate: [1] The word “CROSSTALK” appears in the debate transcript 49 times, a marked increase from last week. [2] Joe Biden spoke for a little over a minute more than Paul Ryan. What about the generational gap? Scott Conroy of RCP points out that several of the past VP debates have featured candidates with an age gap (Biden is 69, Ryan is 42, and Sarah Palin was 44). To put this into cultural context, when Paul Ryan turned 16, number one songs on the radio featured the likes of Lionel Richtie, Prince, and Genesis, for Biden, it was the Everly Bros., the Champs, and Elvis.
  3. Prior to the debate (in part because of the perceived ineffectualness of Jim Lehrer in the first presidential debate) there was an unusual focus on the VP debate moderator, Martha Raddatz. In an interview after the debate, she said that she was surprised by the number of follow-up questions she was able to ask. Josh Barro notably criticized Raddatz’ performance for failing to bring up important topics such as immigration, monetary policy, housing policy, unwinding the fiscal cliff, and for focusing too narrowly on foreign policy while neglecting China, Latin America and Europe.

Progressivism, Conservatism and the Revival of Battle for the Soul of America in 2012

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in Osawatomie, Kansas, White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/6/11

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in Osawatomie, Kansas, White House Photo, Pete Souza, 12/6/11. PD.

This post is adapted from remarks delivered at a special GAGE Colloquium on “The 2012 Presidential Election in Historical Context.”

While American democracy is often prosaic, from time to time it gets caught up in an ongoing battle between progressivism and conservatism. Elections, such as 1912, 1936, 1964 and 1980, ask voters to choose between profoundly different visions of the nature’s future, raising such fundamental questions about the nature of rights and the meaning of the Constitution. This election year seems to promise, or portend, another surrogate constitutional convention.  President Barack Obama and the Democrats and Mitt Romney and the Republicans have invoked and drawn inspiration from the election of 1912, the origins of the contest between Progressivism and Conservatism that has reverberated through our own political time.

            Last December, President Obama took up the mantle of Progressivism in an address delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas – the same site where in 1910 Theodore Roosevelt delivered the important “New Nationalism” speech that launched his final election battle, as the standard bearer of the Progressive Party, which he famously dubbed the Bull Moose campaign. Although TR did not win the election, the Bull Moose Campaign had the best showing of any third party before or since, garnering 27.4% of the electoral vote, and spearheaded a three-decade progressive advance against the “gilded age” Republican Party– and its “stand pat” defense of industrial capitalism – culminating in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s triumph of 1936. The Progressive Party introduced the idea of economic rights, including national health care, and promised to advance the rights of African-Americans, immigrants, and, especially women. With his December 2011 speech, Obama sought to ensure that he first term would not be judged on his record alone, but also would make clear the historic differences that divided Democrats and Republicans. A “ruthless pragmatist” during the first three years of his presidency, he now echoed TR’s Bull Moose Campaign in seeking to rediscover the message of hope and change of his 2008 campaign – and to set the tone for his re-election.

E.J. Dionne: Time to Restore the Balance Between Liberty and Communitarianism

E.J. Dionne, Jr.

E.J. Dionne, Jr.

Today, E. J. Dionne, Jr., senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post, spoke at the Miller Center Forum on his new book, Our Divided Political Heart. In the Progressive tradition, the thesis of the book and of Dionne’s remarks is that from the beginning, Americans have been torn between the core values of individualism and community. While we cherish liberty, individual opportunity and self-expression, we also uphold the values of community obligation and civic virtue. The ongoing efforts to balance and reconcile these values have shaped the character of the nation.

Dionne argued that the Tea Party rose from sense of spiritual crisis and fears of decline, and it was a response to the perceived and real failures of George W. Bush, not only a reaction to Barack Obama’s ascendance to the presidency. The Tea Party’s solution was to reach back to the founders and the Constitution. Dionne acknowledged that is useful to go back to the founding to figure out who we are and those on progressive side need to engage with Tea Party about this. However, Dionne’s criticized the Tea Party and conservatives in the Republican Party for jettisoning the nation’s communitarian traditions in favor of individualism and thereby breaking from their own best traditions. Dionne made the case that America is a freer society when we take care of “freedom from want” and he argued for a return to the balance between individual and community values that characterized most of American ­history.

Friday Roundup: [CROSSTALK]

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

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

  1. Anticipation for this Friday’s BLS Jobs Report was brewing before the debate, but now it has added an interesting twist after Mitt Romney’s successful performance. In September, the private sector added 114,000 mostly healthcare and transportation-related jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to 7.8%--the lowest it has been since President Obama took office. The BLS also revised the job reports for July and August, increasing the previous gains by a net of 86,000 jobs. The Romney campaign was quick to respond to the report, claiming that if the bureau included the number of individuals who have stopped looking for work, the rate would be at around 11%.
  2. Romney’s well-reviewed campaign performance was followed by dings from fact checkers. Here are some other interesting numbers from this week’s debate:
  • An estimated 67.2 million people tuned into the debate. (Compared to 52.4 million for the first 2008 Obama-McCain debate, and 111.3 million for the last Super Bowl.)
  • President Obama spoke for about three minutes more than Mitt Romney.
  • Debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked only six topic-distinct questions in the 90-minute debate.
  • If it is any indication of the tenor of the debate, the word “CROSSTALK” appears 26 times in the debate transcript. (CROSSTALK is when people speak over each other and what they say can’t be heard…a word we think also aptly describes much of the debate in this polarized election year.)