Issues ››› Elections
  • The most overrated polling data in politics

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    I've long argued that the media tends to make too much of polling that consistently shows many more Americans self-identify as conservative than as liberal. News reports often portray that data as evidence that America is a conservative nation, use it to justify assumptions about which policies (and politicians) will be popular, and to assert that Republicans -- but not Democrats -- can enjoy electoral success by appealing to their "base."

    It seems obvious that the public's ideological self-identification cannot carry all that weight. Otherwise, how would you explain (for example) the fact that Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five presidential elections? How would you reconcile the preference for the "conservative" label with a general preference for liberal policies?

    The significance of the public's preference for a given label is limited by the clarity of that label. A poll asking whether people are Yankees fans or Red Sox fans will yield pretty reliable results: There isn't much danger that different respondents will have significantly differing interpretations of those two choices. That isn't the case with "liberal" and "conservative," which are relatively abstract labels with imprecise meanings that are rarely articulated for a mass audience, and which simply don't mean much to most people.

    The fact that more voters self-identify as "conservative" than "liberal" doesn't tell us nothing. It's reasonable to conclude, for example, that "liberal" may be a more effective insult than "conservative," and "conservative" a more effective validator than "liberal." But it doesn't tell us much at all about whether voters really are much more likely to be conservative, or to favor conservative policies and candidates. It doesn't tell us nearly as much as many journalists and pundits think it does.

    The Washington Post's Ezra Klein makes a similar point today, based on a paper (pdf) by political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson. Ellis and Stimson note:

    [T]he preference for the 'liberal' label over the 'conservative' one has been steadily declining since at least the 1970's, even while preferences for 'liberal' public policy—not to mention 'liberal' political candidates—have vacillated, but have not trended downward, during this time period."

    As Klein points out, shortly before the 1936 election, in which Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide re-election and Democrats won almost 80 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives a Gallup poll found most Americans self-identified as "conservative." Here's Klein:

    So on the eve of an overwhelming victory for liberalism -- a victory not just at the polls, but in policy -- the country still called itself conservative. In the decades after that, the country would call itself more conservative, but it would become more liberal. It would elect politicians to oversee the vast expansion of Social Security, and the passage of the civil rights bills, Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It would march toward equality for both African Americans and women, and, it seems, for gays. It would even come to see conservatives defend both Medicare and Social Security as their own.

  • Examiner's Tapscott baselessly asserts "systemic vote fraud" in 2008

    Blog ››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

    Washington Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott writes in an October 12 blog post: "Nobody knows with certainty how many illegal votes were cast in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, but odds are the total was in the millions, thanks to systematic vote fraud campaigns by leftist groups such as ACORN and mis-guided laws that allow individuals to register and vote on the same day."

    Tapscott, however, offers no evidence of "systematic vote fraud" that resulted in "illegal votes" numbering "in the millions" -- perhaps because it didn't happen. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2008, election experts say that voter registration issues that had been associated with ACORN rarely result in fraudulent votes being cast because false and duplicate registrations are typically weeded out. The Chronicle goes on to state that "it's virtually impossible to pull off large-scale voter fraud without being discovered."

    Tapscott's reference to ACORN is nothing more than yet another invocation of a right-wing bogeyman that has become so played out that it was getting tossed around indiscriminately; The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, for instance, insisted that one purported case involved people who allegedly "associated in the past with Acorn" that "may have" been involved in "advising" people "on how to perform" voter fraud, citing unnamed "local politicos." Scaremongering aside, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall has pointed out that any actual vote fraud cases allegedly involving ACORN have been isolated.

    Tapscott's baseless claim came in service to promoting Pajamas Media's "Voter Fraud Watch." He touted how one prominent name linked to Pajamas Media's project is "J. Christian Adams, the courageous former Justice Department attorney who blew the whistle on the Obama administration's craven cave-in to Political Correctness and left-wing ideology in the New Black Panthers Case."

    This would be the same the right-wing activist J. Christian Adams whose allegations regarding DOJ and the New Black Panthers case have been repeatedly discredited.

    The supposed "legal expertise" Adams intends to provide to "Voter Fraud Watch" doesn't exactly enhance the credibility of Pajamas Media's little project.

  • Fox has Kirkpatrick in its crosshairs

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Fox News today has repeatedly aired a report by correspondent William LaJeunesse which was nothing more than a misleading attack on Ann Kirkpatrick, a member of Congress from Arizona's 1stcongressional district. Kirkpatrick is a first-term congresswoman who doesn't seem to have a lot of national recognition, but nevertheless, LaJeunesse ran an almost five minute segment attacking her for running for reelection as a fiscal conservative, a stance that he seemed to feel was unjustified.

    LaJeunesse launched into a misleading hit piece on Kirkpatrick for claims she has made during her campaign, specifically that she ran against auto and wall street bailouts, and defied Democratic leadership in her opposition to TARP. Since Kirkpatrick was not in office when TARP was passed, she bases her opposition to the Wall Street bailouts on a January 2009 House resolution "dissapprov[ing] the obligation of any amount exceeding" the amount of money originally described in TARP. Her statement that she voted in opposition to auto bailouts is based on two votes against the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act, also known as the cash-for-clunkers program. As a candidate, Kirkpatrick expressed opposition to TARP, saying that it "unfairly helped Wall Street over families." Nevertheless, LaJeunesse portrayed her as deceptive and misleading. Watch:

  • Lies, damn lies, and stuff Karl Rove says

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Appearing on (where else?) Fox over the weekend, Karl Rove wove a web of obfuscation to defend his role with a $50 million GOP slush fund and attack President Obama for calling attention to it.

    In a speech, President Obama said that "two groups, funded and advised by Karl Rove," have been huge players in support of the Republican candidate in the Illinois Senate race. On Fox News Sunday, Rove passionately responded. Note what Rove denies, and doesn't deny:

    Rove vigorously denied having personally put up the money for the two groups in question, the 527 group American Crossroads and its 501(c)(4) non-profit arm, Crossroads GPS. Instead, he said he is "helping to raise money for these groups" and "absolutely doing everything I can to raise money for them." He then attempted to direct the Fox audience to American Crossroads' web site so they could donate to the group. This was apparently too much even for Bret Baier, who repeatedly said "all right" over Rove's recitation of the URL.

    I'll leave it to someone else to explain the political distinction between Rove personally contributing the money, and lining up the donations from billionaire Texas oil barons. He's still providing the group's funding, whether it's coming from his bank account or not.

    What did Rove avoid denying? Obama's statement that Rove has "advised" the groups. So is he? Is he picking the races the groups are targeting? Defining lines of attack? Approving the attack ads?

    Fox has been utterly unconcerned that their top "political analyst," who regularly appears on air unopposed by any Democrat to discuss the 2010 elections, is simultaneously raising money that is being used to bolster Republican campaigns. But you think they'd care if he's guiding American Crossroads' decisions on which races to spend that money on.

    If Karl Rove is reading his group's polling of Senate race, picking out the best paths of attack on Democrats, and simultaneously channeling those attacks into TV ads and his Fox News commentary, you would think that even Fox would have to respond.

  • The New York Times ignores key facts about the Chamber of Commerce's foreign funding

    Blog ››› ››› CHRIS HARRIS

    Last week, the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Think Progress revealed that partisan attack ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are funded in part by foreign corporations seeking to influence America's midterm elections. Their report clearly ruffled some feathers.

    At first, the Chamber attempted to deflect from the story by attempting to discredit Think Progress through talk radio-esque attacks on George Soros. Seeing that wasn't working, the Chamber's spokespeople decided to ignore large parts of the allegations, instead focusing on the role of "AmChams," overseas business councils.

    Examining the charges, the New York Times fell for the Chamber's line, writing:

    [The Chamber's chief lobbyist Bruce] Josten said the Chamber of Commerce had 115 foreign member affiliates in 108 countries, who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues that go into its general fund.

    The group's total budget is more than $200 million, and Mr. Josten said the group had safeguards to segregate the small fraction generated overseas from other accounts to comply with federal law and avoid bleeding into political spending.

    But these AmChams are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to foreign money lining the Chamber's pockets. As Think Progress' Faiz Shakir noted:

    In a statement provided to Sargent, the Chamber reveals that foreign-based "AmChams pay nominal dues to the Chamber -- approximately $100,000 total across all 115 AmChams." But "AmChams" are only a small piece of the puzzle.

    Most of the Chamber's foreign sources of funds come from large multi-national corporations who are headquartered abroad, like BP and Siemens. Direct contributions from foreign firms also are accepted under the auspices of the Chamber's "Business Councils" located in various foreign countries.

    Rather than letting the Chamber of Commerce get away with the ol' AmCham straw man argument, the New York Times should push past the spin and get to the truth. As the "paper of record," it has a responsibility to tell Americans who is behind the Chamber's efforts to defeat progressive candidates.

    The always-helpful Shakir went ahead and posted some readymade questions for journalists to pose to the Chamber:

    1) How many foreign sources of funding does the Chamber have? The Washington Post's Greg Sargent received this statement from a Chamber spokeswoman: "[Of] the Chamber's 300,000 members, a relative handful are non-U.S. based companies." How many is a "relatively handful," and how much do they contribute?

    2) Are the foreign funds being directed into the same general account that is used to pay for partisan attack ads? Again, the Post's Greg Sargent pressed on this point. The Chamber, which is running more than $10 million in political advertising just this week (the largest expenditure in one week by an outside group), said, "We are not obligated to discuss our internal accounting procedures."