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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

Miller Center Celebrates President’s Day with Panel on 2012 Election

The Elections of 2012, President’s Day Panel

In a special Presidents’ Day event last Monday, the Miller Center brought together top scholars to reflect on and analyze the 2012 elections. Participants included the Miller Center's Oral History Program Senior Fellow and Editor Michael Nelson, Rhodes College, as well as Nicole Mellow, Williams College; Marian Currinder, Georgetown University; and David Mayhew, Yale University.  The session was moderated by the Miller Center's Director of Democracy & Governance Studies, Sid Milkis. Read on for highlights of the session and watch the video for more in-depth analysis of the 2012 election.

A Citizen’s-eye View of the 57th Inauguration

Citizens and media file into Capitol Hill for the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

Citizens and media file into Capitol Hill for the Public Swearing-In of Barack Obama at the 57th Presidential Inauguration. Photo courtesy of Carah Ong Whaley.

The Presidential Inauguration is an important civic ritual that legitimizes election results and represents a peaceful transfer of power. Last week, I attended President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration with the purpose of providing a citizen’s eye-view of events for RTT followers. While there was a certain measure of pomp and circumstance surrounding the 57th Inauguration, it was off-set by the diversity of the crowd and the President’s liberal, populist appeal.

On the Sunday before the public swearing-in, I attended one of the many Inaugural events being held by non-profit organizations, PACs, lobbyists, and consultants throughout the DC area. These events ranged from black tie balls to more subtle affairs with the purpose of both celebrating political victory and raising more money. Members of Congress made cameo appearances and gave brief speeches to thank the organizations and supporters for helping them get re-elected. They were also already beating the drum to raise money for the 2016 election…the never-ending campaign. As one member of Congress revealed at the event I attended, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently sent out a memo telling all members of Congress that they are to spend four hours per day fundraising. By any measure, that is quite a bit of time to devote to fundraising, especially when Congress began 2013 with its approval rating at 14%. How can Congress actually engage in the hard work required to legislate, govern and serve constituents when so much of their time is expected to be devoted to raising money for the next election? Doesn’t this system only further ingratiate Congress to special interests?

At an event I attended, Angus King (I-Maine) emphasized that we are in a unique era of hyper-partisanship and polarization. As a political scientist, I wanted to point out that it’s actually not so unique. In fact, there have been many periods in American political history when the parties have engaged in deep struggles over the role and direction of government. But his broader point was worth noting. King noted that he was elected not to engage in partisan politics, but to make every attempt to get government working again.

Many other politicians and members of the media also made their cameos. The more liberal media, Senators and members of Congress pressed supporters to rally for a more liberal agenda in President Obama’s second term and to gear up for battle in the 2014 mid-term election. From their speeches, there would seem to be no end to partisan bickering in sight.

A Voter’s Eye View of the 2012 Election - Charles Stewart III

Charles Stewart III presents a “Voter’s-eye View of the 2012 Election,” GAGE Colloquium, January 18, 2013

During the Miller Center’s January 18th GAGE colloquium, Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, gave a preview of 2012 Election data that, in his words, is “hot off the press.” Stewart gleaned answers from a survey of over ten thousand respondents to some of the most interesting questions regarding election administration in the recent election, including topics such as reasons motivating voter turnout and public opinion regarding voter ID laws.

Overall, Stewart stressed that the vast majority of Americans have a good voting experience. A large proportion of voters wait five minutes or less on election day, and the vast majority of voters say it was very easy to find their polling place. However, Stewart’s talk suggests that more work could be done. In both his colloquium paper and talk, Stewart cited what V.O. Key wrote in 1949: election administration is “the most primitive and neglected branch of our public administration.” This suggests that more time ought to be spent addressing, in a systematic and scientific way, the administrative challenges associated with the expedience, accuracy, and accessibility of voting.

Stewart showed those states that had previous problems with long wait times, particularly Florida, tended to continue to have the same problems--rebutting the notion that the 2012 Election was particularly problematic in that way. Instead, Stewart said long wait times are more often a function of statewide policies, year after year.

For more, watch the full colloquium, which also touched on issues such as higher wait times for minority voters and partisan polarization over election reforms.

Top Quotes from the 2012 Presidential Election

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.

It’s the last day of the year. To celebrate, we decided to recap what we think are the top fifteen quotes from the 2012 presidential election. Wishing all our readers the best for a peaceful and prosperous 2013.

Top Candidate Quotes:

1. Mitt Romney, speaking to donors during a private fundraising dinner:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.

2. Barack Obama, ‘You didn’t build that’ comment that was used effectively by Republicans (unedited):

There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.

3. Mitt Romney’s comment on women during a presidential debate that set the Internet ablaze with memes galore. Referring to his time as Massachusetts governor:

I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men. 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.

4. Mitt Romney on what he would cut in spending during the first presidential debate:

What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. Obamacare's on my list. ... I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one.

5. Barack Obama to Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate:

I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.

The Biggest Myths of the 2012 Election

As part of the Miller Center’s Recasting Presidential History conference in October, the History News Network interviewed participants on presidential history. Following the conference, Dick Walsh, editor of the History News Network, conducted a post-election analysis interview with Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado. The full video chat is available on the Miller Center’s website (click here to watch), but in this post, we survey key insights on the election offered by Prof. Chernus.

In the video chat, Chernus discussed the key myths told during the campaign. To clarify, what Chernus means when he says myths are “the stories that are told to create a sense of identity to make sense out of the American experience. They are a mixture of fiction and truth.” In 2012, the dominant myth that resonated was a story that hasn’t been seen on the national scene in quite awhile – the story of the gap between the super rich and the rest of us. The story first began to surface with the Occupy Movement in 2011. It’s been a long time since wealth and income inequality has been a story in the mass media. Obama began to speak about the difficulties of the middle class and the privileges of the rich about a year before the election. It is, of course, a story with deep historical roots, and has been used in the past by Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as earlier progressive and populist movements. According to Chernus, the Obama campaign made very effective use of this myth to create a story about Romney as a vulture venture capitalist. Of course in politics you want to define your opponent before your opponent has a chance to define you. Obama defined himself as a champion of the middle class fighting against a predatory capitalist who would do to the whole nation what he had done to the workers of the companies bought out by Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign made some effort to rebut this myth, but for the most part their strategy was not to engage. When you rebut, you go on the defensive and reinforce what your opponent says about you. Instead, the Romney campaign’s effort was to define Obama as incompetent, and someone who had destroyed the economy and who didn’t know how to get us out of the recession. The Romney team went back to Reagan’s “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  That is also a traditional story in American politics. In the spring and summer, most pundits thought it would be the story of the election. The intervening months since then have shown that was too simplistic an analysis. The idea that political fortunes are determined by the economy is a long-standing story, but Chernus hopes it will be harder to make that case in the future because it is too simple – there are too many other variables interacting in elections.

The South’s New Electoral Fault Line?

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.

In a new article, Douglas A. Blackmon, contributing editor at The Washington Post and chair and host of the Miller Center Forum, analyzes the role of the South in the 2012 election. According to Blackmon, President Obama’s strong finish in the South presents a surprising story and underscores another challenge to the GOP, which has relied on Southern whites as their base of national support. In the 2012 election, Obama outperformed every Democratic nominee since Carter in Southern coastal states and significantly narrowed past gaps between Democratic and Republican candidates. Furthermore, the 2012 election revealed a deepening voting divide between blacks and whites. For example, Blackmon cites exit polls in Mississippi where nearly nine of ten white voters cast their ballot for Mitt Romney and 96 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Obama.  Differences in turnout rates amongst black and whites in Southern states also contributed to Obama’s strong finish. While Southern whites voted overwhelmingly for Romney, far fewer went to the polls in at least six Southern states on Election Day compared to 2008. Meanwhile, black voters came out in droves, contradicting expectations of Republican pollsters. The results reveal that the Republican Party will need to address the concerns of African Americans, in addition to Hispanics and other minorities if it wishes to be competitive in future elections.

Read the full article by Douglas A. Blackmon here.

Was the Presidential Election a Progressive Win?

2012 Presidential Election Results by State. Map by Ernesto Barahona.

2012 Presidential Election Results by State. Map by Ernesto Barahona, November 8, 2012. CC-SA.

On the surface, President Obama’s reelection appears to have been the electoral equivalent of a progressive exclamation point. Obama not only won 8 of the original 10 battleground states (winning: CO, FL, IA, NH, NM, NV, OH, VA; losing: IN and NC), but also earned a whopping 332 electoral votes.

A cursory comparison of CNN’s exit polls from 2008 and 2012 also seems to suggest that the “emerging Democratic majority” first described by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira is beginning to take hold. Latinos, Asians, and young people (18-29) made up a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than they did in 2008 (each group gained a percentage point), while whites made up a smaller share (72% in 2012 instead of 74% in 2008). Further, President Obama’s margins among Latinos and Asians grew between the two elections by four (from 67% to 71%) and 11 percentage points (62% to 73%), respectively. Some have even gone further to argue that the country is now “center-left” because “the Republican Party lost the middle everywhere, and as a result the map got slightly bluer everywhere.”

But is this the correct interpretation of the trends above?

The simple answer to this question is “not exactly.”

As James E. Campbell, SUNY Buffalo, noted during last weekend’s Northeastern Political Science Association Conference, the 2012 exit polls also revealed that 51% of the electorate believes that the government is doing too much, while only 43% believe it should do more. Additionally, more of the electorate said that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed than not (49% to 44%).

Beyond these data, Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics.com pointed out the real issue that neither progressives nor conservatives can afford to ignore in their interpretations of the results: “The 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.”

So who didn’t show up?

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.

“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.

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).

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.

The (Imperfect) Value of the Debates

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.

On Sunday, October 14, a special edition of ABC’s This Week, produced with the Miller Center, focused on the question, "Do presidential debates change elections?" Today’s guest post provides a scholarly response to the question.        

The September 26, 1960, edition of the Washington Post did not even mention that night’s scheduled debate between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee.  The three broadcast networks’ evening news programs barely mentioned the event.

            Surprise: the audience for the first Kennedy-Nixon debate—the first debate in history between two candidates for president—was the largest for a political event in human history up to that time.  More than 60 million saw it on television and millions more heard it on the radio.  About 100 million saw or heard at least one of the four debates.

            And then . . . nothing.  No debates when President Lyndon B. Johnson ran against Arizona senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.  None when Nixon faced Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and an independent candidate, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, in 1968.  Or when Nixon ran for reelection against Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota in 1972.

            Only in 1976 did the stars align once again and debates occur.  The main reason: for the first time since 1960, both candidates—President Gerald Ford, who was trailing in the polls, and Gov. Jimmy Carter, who like all challengers wanted a stage on which he could face the incumbent as an equal—saw an advantage in debating.  Nineteen seventy-six also brought an innovation: the debate between Ford’s running mate, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, and Carter’s vice presidential nominee, Minnesota senator Walter Mondale.  Not a bad idea, considering that fourteen vice presidents—nearly one third of them—have gone on to become president.