From Giuliani to Paige to Duncan: data-driven to distraction

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

Data driven public policy – it is a cherished goal of the post-ideological, bipartisan, totally rationalist America we are supposed to be moving towards.  We hear praise in the media for public officials who declare themselves non-ideological and strictly data driven.  Beware of such public officials.

A newly released survey of police officers and commanders in New York City reveals that Rudolph Giuliani‘s reputation as a tough law-and-order mayor in the 1990s was built on a foundation of false data.  As mayor, Giuliani sent word down the line that crime in the city must be reduced.  He wanted statistics to show that crime rates in New York were dropping compared to other cities.  According to extensive interviews among police precinct commanders and supervisors in the city, reported in the New York Times on February 6, the police felt considerable pressure from their superiors to alter the crime statistics.  When the boss asked for something, they delivered.

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Elections of 2010: change, stability and giving them hell

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

There are 302 days until the November elections, but who’s counting?  If you are, here are three items I offer as guideposts:

    1. The elections of senators, congressmen, and statewide officials will turn on national rather than local themes.

    The 2010 elections will be nationalized for a number of reasons: a) the recession and the jobs issue are nationwide problems; b) health care is a defining party-line issue no matter what state you live in; and c) the Democrats control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, so there is no ignoring the fact that the Democrats should take responsibility for the direction of government.  This will make it easy for Republican candidates to make the case that the election is on Democratic leadership in Washington.  They are already starting to do this.

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Spare the religiosity, it is political ideology that matters

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

A good rule to follow when interpreting election results and voter sentiments is to ignore explanations that rely on references to religion or God.  I was reminded of this rule this week when I read Mark Mellman's column in The Hill.

Mark's column, "Revisiting the G-d gap," argues that religiosity is dividing Democratic and Republican voters, and he concludes:  "If Democrats truly want to win religious voters, they must adopt a new vocabulary and a different perspective, without betraying the values that define us."

I counter that it will be futile for Democrats to devise a strategy specifically to win religious voters because when religiosity shows up as meaningful in crosstabs of surveys, it is most often an artifact of political ideology rather than the core driver of political attitudes.

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Two questions for Obama on Afghanistan

Here are two questions for President Obama before tomorrow night's speech on Afghanistan:


       
  • How many months did it take for President Nixon to end the Vietnam War with his "Vietnamization" plan?


       
  • When was the last time a general in the field told a president, when asked to assess a battlefield situation:  "Sir, this is a real dog, unwinnable, it is a mistake being here?"

Okay, okay, my first query is a trick question because Nixon's policy of Vietnamization did not end the war.  Nixon and Henry Kissinger prolonged the war, which continued until Congress finally shut down funding in 1975.  Even then, it was over the objections of President Gerald Ford.

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Global warming polls' hidden meanings

I recently advised a long-standing client who works for an environmental foundation to pay very little attention to the national polls on the environment, because they serve as a distraction from the foundation's work.  I could tell from the response that my client was thinking, "Odd advice from a pollster."

The most recent polls on global warming are an example of surveys with hidden meanings.

Last month a new poll by the Pew Research Center sent shock waves across the environmental community when it reported that the percentage of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that global warming exists declined since last year, from 71% in April 2008 to 57% in October 2009.  This week, ABC News released a poll corroborating the Pew findings.  ABC reported that the number of Americans who believe global warming is occurring has declined from 80% in July of 2008 to 72% in November of this year.

But the story does not end there.  Both polls asked questions about whether global warming was a serious problem, and both reported that more people thought global warming was a serious problem than said there was evidence that it existed.

Say what?

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.25% on each trade can take a giant step for jobs and justice

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

While over 200,000 Americans lose their jobs each month, the investment bankers and insurance company executives whose reckless behavior caused the crisis are enjoying record profits and over $100 billion in salaries and bonuses this year.

President Obama's economic team, afraid of offending the offenders on Wall Street, has done little to correct this immoral and economically unsound situation.  Two Democratic back benchers in Congress, however, are planning to introduce legislation that requires those who put so many other Americans out of work to dig into their deep pockets to help put people back to work.

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Bishops speak for 9% of Americans, 55% of House of Representatives

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

Imagine a country in which a small group of religious zealots, run by old men in robes, has an iron grip on the country's political institutions despite a core following of only about nine percent of the people.

This small but powerful league tries to influence broader public opinion but fails. Nonetheless, it continues to be a force far beyond its numbers for policies that keep women from obtaining rights previously granted by the government, stop the advancement of anti-discrimination laws against gay people, and block other social and health reforms such as educating children about sexual health and distributing condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and other diseases.

The mullahs in Tehran had better move over and make room for the Catholic Bishops in America.

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David Brooks is mistaken about what independents want

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

David Brooks' op-ed in the NY Times last week was mistaken when it asserted that this most recent election was an indication that political moderates were turning more conservative.

Brooks argues that independents who voted in the elections last week are by definition political moderates, and that the election marks a turning point in this voting bloc toward more conservative views.  He says we now know that independents do not want government to help solve the economic problems of the country, and that this will be the prevailing mood going into 2010.

Brooks' arguments are built on a foundation of mistaken assumptions about public opinion.  First, he considers self-described independents as a static group.  Pollsters and other political observers know that the label "independent" is taken on and off by voters like a piece of clothing.  You cannot assume independents are by default moderates, because their makeup is never the same from year to year.  In 2009, we know for sure that many of today's independents were yesterday's Republicans.

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Two Obamas on economy spells trouble

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

Too often it seems there are two Barack Obamas steering economic policies.
First there is Obama the Reformer, who promised during the campaign that he would work toward more respect for the values of responsibility and fairness in the economy.

Then there is Obama the Wall Street Admirer, whose economic team has repeatedly acted like Hank Paulson's interns, looking for Wall Street's approval and pretending that it is not the administration's role to stop policies that encourage the selfishness and irresponsibility that caused our economic downturn.

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Tuesday's election was about governing, not politics

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

The meaning of voters' behavior in Tuesday's elections does not lie in which political party is up and which is down at the moment, but about how government and the people who run it respond to an economy that is ruining the lives of too many people.

Tuesday's outcomes serve as a cold reminder that the public now grades chief executives in politics - mayors, governors, presidents - according to two questions. Voters ask: 1) have you done something constructive to deal with the need for jobs and delivery of services in my town or city or state? 2) Do you empathize with us? Do you even know what it is like to get up every day in the dark, walk a mile and wait outside in the cold for the Path train in Jersey to take you into Manhattan -- to a job that you are not sure will be there in six months. Does the person at the top understand anything about what the person at the bottom - or even the person in the middle -- is going through, especially now, in this economy?

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Diaries

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