The Second Election Night Trend

By: Inoljt,

For Democrats, the election's most worrying result was not in Virginia, New Jersey, or Maine. It was the special election in CA-10.

At first glance, this might seem a bit puzzling. Democrats won that election, after all - and they won it by a comfortable 10% margin.

Yet, when compared to previous elections, this result is quite an underperformance. Barack Obama, for instance, won this congressional district by three times that margin. Since 2002, moreover, former Democratic congressman Ellen Tauscher had never polled below 65% of the vote.

Moreover, the election revealed more about the national mood than, say, Virginia or New Jersey. Those races were heavily dependent on local factors (e.g. the quality of the Deeds campaign, the unpopularity of Governor Jon Corzine). In CA-10, you had two low-recognition candidates and little publicity; it was closer to a generic ballot poll.

If  CA-10 could be characterized as a generic ballot poll, then Democrats should be extremely worried. In 2009, CA-10 went from a 30% Democratic victory to a 10% one: a 10-point shift to the right. Similar shifts were seen in New Jersey and Virginia; the electorate as a whole moved substantially to the right. The Democrats were very fortunate that Tuesday did not constitute a full-blown congressional election; they would have been crushed.

There is good news, however. Democratic weakness two days ago resulted more from an energized Republican base than a fundamental shift in the national mood. Republicans, motivated and unhappy, turned out; President Barack Obama's coalition did not. The president still attains approval ratings in the low 50s - hardly the sign of an unpopular incumbent.

The bad news is that I am not sure if Mr. Obama's coalition will turn out for the 2010 congressional elections. His voters have been curiously lethargic ever since his election; their low turn-out was how Senator Saxy Chambliss in Georgia went from a 3% general victory to a 14% run-off victory. Republicans, then, may do well next year.

In fact, I am not even sure Mr. Obama's coalition will re-emerge in 2012, when he goes up for re-election. The president, after all, ran on a campaign of hope, change, and idealism. The difficult compromises forced by governing have tainted this brand, and it will inevitably continue to be diluted over the next three years. Obama's 2008 coalition may go down as unique in American history, much like former President Jimmy Carter's coalition.

I hope it will not. There is that word again.

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Two Trends on Election Night

By: Inoljt,

Last night's election exhibited two trends: one positive for the country as a whole, and one more ominous for Democrats. Firstly, Americans rejected negative campaigning and extremism - whether it be in Virginia, New Jersey, NY-23. Secondly, the electorate as a whole shifted quite profoundly to the right. This post will focus on the first aspect.

Negative Campaigning and Extremism

In the most-watched races, voters chose the side that espoused moderation and ran a positive message. The Democratic candidates in both Virginia and New Jersey focused on the negative: state congressman Creigh Deeds of Virginia spent most of his time attacking Attorney General Bob McDonnell's college thesis, while Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey launched a barrage of negative ads. Both candidates lost.

There tends to be a myth, commonly repeated by the media, that negative campaigning works. They point to former President George W. Bush, whose Swiftboat ads ensured a 2% victory over Senator John Kerry. The truth, as recent elections show, is more complicated: Senator John McCain, Mr. Deeds, and Mr. Corzine all pinned their hopes on tearing down their opponent and all lost.

The other race featured the victory of moderate politics over extremism. In NY-23,  a Republican-represented district since the Civil War, conservatives sabotaged the moderate Republican candidate in favor of hard-line Doug Hoffman. Fortunately, voters in upstate New York rejected the Glenn Beck nominee and instead chose Democrat Bill Owens, an independent turned Democrat.

Thus the election results enforced a positive trend in politics - one of moderation and positive campaigning focused on the issues, rather than divisive personal attacks. For Democrats like myself, however, the other trend - a rightward shift - is more worrisome. Hopefully it more reflects right-wing anger than the true national mood.

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Economic Stimulus (From a Layman Perspective)

By: Inoljt,

There is something very fishy with Keynesian economics and the theory that government stimulus best fights recessions.

Before I continue, I should note that I am entirely unqualified to offer this critique of a fundamental economic tenet. I do not have a Ph.D in economics; nor do can I offer any alternative to combating recession. Nevertheless, here are my non-intellectual thoughts on the matter.

The best test of an economic principle (or any principle, for that matter) is in the field - in real life. For example, reality contradicted the economic theory that financial markets are rational in a particularly memorable way. On the other hand, reality supports the principles of supply and demand.

As far as I can tell, the "reality test" for economic stimulus has had quite mixed results. Two stimuli come off the top of my head: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Japan's response to its 1990s housing bubble. The New Deal, while popular and praised to this very day, did not end the Great Depression. Likewise, Japan's stimulus also did not stop its Lost Decade.

Supporters of Keynes, in response, assert that both Roosevelt and Japan needed even more stimulus; both cut back government spending when they should have spent even more.

To me, this argument recalls the saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It's as if a medieval doctor proposes "bleeding" a sick patient. Upon seeing that bloodletting is not working, the doctor concludes that the patient needs even more bloodletting - when in reality the doctor's "cure" is only making the patient sicker.

The analogy is probably exaggerated; after all, WWII government spending did end the Great Depression. As stated before, the "reality test" has not proven one side right.

What is certain is that more test results are upcoming. The general response to the Great Recession has been economic stimulus; we shall see whether or not it works fairly soon. I hope the evidence goes against my suspicions. I fear it will not.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 5

This is the last part of an analysis on the swing state Florida. The previous parts can be found here.

Here is how John Kerry did in south Florida:


Here is how Barack Obama performed:


Broward and Palm Beach are marginally smaller, when compared to Obama's performance. The big difference, however, is with Miami-Dade. Kerry won it by 6%; Obama won it by 16%.

There is no other place in Florida (and, perhaps, the country) like Miami-Dade. Palm Beach and Broward counties are retiree destinations; Miami is home to immigrants and refugees from all Latin America. More than 60% of the population is Latino - and only 3% of them come from Mexico. The Miami accent is unique compared with the nation. Local government is distinct from other counties in Florida.

One would expect Miami to be one of the most Democratic places in the nation, much like New York City or Chicago.

It is not.

The reason why is below the flip.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 4

This is the fourth part of an analysis on the swing state Florida. The last part can be found here.

The Miami Metropolis

Diverse, populous, sun-baked - south Florida is far different from the rest of the state. It is the Democratic base, where liberals win their biggest margins.

Here is how Barack Obama did in South Florida:

Like most Democratic candidates, he obtains huge margins. Compare the size of the circles here to those in the I-4 corridor (this can't be done regarding northern Florida, unfortunately). They're a magnitude bigger.


For why this is so, see below the fold.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 3

This is part three of a series on the political structure of the swing state Florida. Part four can be found here.

The I-4 Corridor

If there is a holy grail of Florida politics, it is winning the I-4 corridor. This refers to the Interstate 4 highway, which begins in Tampa Bay, travels though Orlando, and ends in Daytona Beach.

Here is the performance of a relatively weak Democrat, John Kerry, in the I-4 corridor:

John Kerry gets absolutely pummeled. There is a sea of red counties. This is the reason why John Kerry lost Florida.

Here is the performance of a stronger Democrat, Barack Obama:


Continued below the flip.

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The Strange Case of New Jersey

By: Inoljt,

The New Jersey governor's election is less than two weeks away, and it deserves far more attention than I have been giving it. Nevertheless, I will now belatedly share some thoughts that have been stewing in my head.

Here is a snapshot of the race, taken on October 25th:


There are several unmistakable trends here. The challenger Attorney Chris Christie gains a double-digit lead over the incumbent, for fairly obvious reasons. Then, mysteriously, he proceeds to lose it. Incumbent Governor Jon Corzine's share of the vote mostly remains flat but - and this is important - trends slightly upward. While the two main candidates blast each other, third-party candidate Chris Daggett draws support at an accelerating rate.

Mr. Corzine's positive trend should encourage Democrats; it indicates that he is actually building support, not just tearing down Mr. Christie. In addition, expect Mr. Daggett to overperform on election day as he reaches viability. Normally, third-party candidates perform below their polling; this election, however, with both major candidates highly unpopular, constitutes anything but a normal situation.

The strangest and most interesting part of the campaign, however, has been the story of Mr. Christie.

Continued below the flip.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 2

This is part two of a series on the political structure of the swing state Florida. Part three can be found here.


Florida can be considered as three regions distinct in culture, economics, and voting patterns. Northern Florida is deep red; the I-4 corridor is light red; and the Miami metropolis is moderately blue.

Until recently, Florida was far different from what it looks like today. It was the quintessential Southern state, and it was fairly empty in term of people. Florida's voting record reflected its southern roots. Until Eisenhower won it twice, Florida was part of the Solid South. In 1964, LBJ ran well behind his national average, due to his support for civil rights. The next election, George Wallace took 29% of the vote. Then in 1976, Jimmy Carter resurrected the Solid South for the last time, winning Florida by 5%. That was also the last time a Democrat ran above the national average in Florida.

Northern Florida and the Panhandle

Florida still is a Southern state to some extent. This is especially true in northern Florida and the panhandle, which borders Alabama and Georgia. Northern Florida is very conservative; it is not uncommon to see a Republican taking 70% or more of the vote in a number of counties there, as the picture below the flip indicates.

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Analyzing Swing States: Florida, Part 1

In 2008, Illinois Senator Barack Obama won Colorado by 9.0%, Florida by 2.8%, and Indiana by 1.0%. Guess which one was the "swing state" in 2004.

The answer is Florida, and if that seems strange in light of the above - it is. In fairness, one might counter that Obama did relatively poorly in Florida (where he didn't campaign in the primaries) and relatively well in Colorado (where the Democratic convention was held).

Here's another question. Colorado, Florida, Indiana. Only one of these three sends a majority-Republican delegation to the House of Representatives. Which one is it? (A hint: it's not Indiana.)

It turns out that Florida elects 15 Republican congressmen and 10 Democratic congressmen. Again, to be fair, one might note that Florida's Republican-controlled state legislature gerrymandered Florida's congressional districts to achieve an unbalanced result. This is relatively easy - most Democrats live in tightly clustered South Florida.

But that's just it: Florida's state legislature is Republican-controlled. In fact, Republicans have 60%+ majorities in both chambers. Florida's governor is Republican Charlie Crist. Florida was voted Democratic in only two of the last eight presidential elections. John Kerry's campaign was shocked by the margin he lost by in Florida. Bill Clinton won Georgia, of all states, while losing Florida in1992.

To be fair, I'm picking and choosing my numbers. If you go back to the past nine presidential elections, you'll find Democrats batting three for nine, not two for eight. And three of those eight elections were big Republican victories.

But there's only so many times one can say "to be fair." There's only so many excuses one can make for yet another indication of Republican dominance in Florida.

Because the closer one inspects as Florida, the more it begins to look less like a swing state than a conservative state with an unusually big Democratic base - which the media happens to call a swing state.

In the next sections, I'll be analyzing why exactly this is so.


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Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio

Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania. Some of the most hotly contested, heavily analyzed swing states in the nation. In the next few days I will be going over the political composition of these states - where the Democrats and Republicans have their voting base. I will also look at "swing" regions inside these states, which may support either the Democratic or Republican candidate.

While the media and popular opinion labels Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as "swing states," all three swing in one consistent direction more often than not. Florida and Ohio swing right: when the country turns red, they tend to be a bit more red and when the country turns blue, they tend to be a bit less blue. Pennsylvania swings in the opposite direction; it is always more Democratic than the nation at large. These political leanings have held true for election after election (including the most recent one), no matter who the candidates are or what their campaigns do. They have immense political significance.

Part 1 of Florida can be found here


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