Saturday, September 25, 2004

Life in Iraq

What to know what its like these days in Iraq? This blog posting from Juan Cole is a must-read.

Daily Show Viewers' Political Knowledge

One of my favourite late-night television programs is Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It has the best, most pointed, political satire to be found in the American media. Now a new public opinion survey finds that:

Viewers of late-night comedy programs, especially The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, are more likely to know the issue positions and backgrounds of presidential candidates than people who do not watch late-night comedy, the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey shows.

More details can be found here.

Monday, September 20, 2004

NDP Campaign in This Mag

I recommend this article in This Magazine on the NDP campaign during the 2004 federal election. While I don’t endorse all of it there is some interesting and original background worth reading. In particular I would highlight the following two passages:

About the NDP TV ads:
Despite the high-profile TV spots, marketing experts say the message was soft. Early ads touched briefly on issues like health care, cities, pensions and the environment, but didn’t focus on one point in particular. “If they’d given [voters] something to latch on to, they may have done better,” says Richard D. Johnson, chair of the department of marketing, business economics and law at the University of Alberta. Marketing specialist Martin Wales agrees. “They didn’t give me enough reason to vote for them—they didn’t present anything unique.”

This point was also made by TC Norris here. See the section on the NDP.

About the NDP’s failure with respect to strategic voting
“The biggest weakness of the campaign was the inability to figure out what to say to voters about the threat from the right,”(York U. Prof Jim) Laxer says. He points to the NDP’s attempts to dismiss the Liberals as Conservatives in disguise as a huge mistake. In June, the party launched an Ontario-only TV ad that pegged Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty and Mike Harris together. “I would regard myself as someone on the left, but when they try to tell me that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same, what’s left of my hair stands on end because I just don’t buy it.”

The NDP needs a case for why they deserve votes and not the Liberals but as Laxer notes, the argument that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same is not it. Having said that, the key factor, (to which the This Mag article does not do justice) was the urban fear of a highly conservative social agenda on the part of the Conservatives. This had the effect of driving voters to the safety of the Liberals who are, by and large, socially liberal.

I can't think of what the NDP might have done about this. Circumstances sometimes are against you no matter what you say or do. Such was the case for the NDP in 2004. For their part, the Liberals, having initially planned to go strongly after Conservative voters, recognized that they needed a strategic shift to a more progressive profile to win.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Bush AWOL Documents

Last week the CBS News program 60 Minutes (Wednesday edition) interviewed Ben Barnes, a Texas Democrat, who says he got George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. They also disclosed that they had obtained documents that reveal that Bush received favourable treatment while in the Guard.

Since then right-wing blogs have been relentlessly trying to discredit the documents (in part I think to distract from the cold reality of the Barnes interview). In fact, they were quick off the mark to do so. This passage from ABC News The Note (a daily round-up of political news and comment) from the Friday September 10 edition suggests maybe they were just a little too fast off the mark:

“…in the war that will ensue about WHO gave CBS the potentially phony documents, it is interesting to Note that the right (Drudge, Fox, right-leaning blogs, others) led the way in pointing out the questions we have all been asking — and they were onto the questions, with remarkable detail, relatively soon after the documents were made public. (my emphasis)

Here's part of how this story got here . . . from a little Marc Ambinder back-lurking on the blogs . . .
At 8:00 pm ET Wednesday night, CBS News does the story . . .
at 11:59 pm ET (8:59 pm PT), the documents come into question via a poster named Buckhead on the Free Republic Web site:

Buckhead seems well-read on his forensic document examination skills.

"Howlin, every single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman. In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts. The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts. I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old."

Well, this is bandied about by dozens of Freepers, as they're called and is picked up at 8:30 am ET and added to by — this little green football guy is a very popular conservative blogger . . .
It's expanded upon by in the early morning:
and also by
and here, at 10:36 am ET:”

If the documents are discredited the only campaign that will suffer is Kerry’s. That suggests to me that if the documents are proven to be a fraud, it was the Bush team that planted them.

Kevin Phillips, in his remarkable book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, writes on page 147 that Bush poltical advisor Karl Rove was a great reader of Machievelli, who was quoted as follows: "The great majority of mankind is satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities." Says it all I think.

The best blogs from the liberal side of the spectrum who have been monitoring developments on this have been Kevin Drum and Atrios.

Update: CBS now says they have reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents but the identity of the source of the docs appears to be well hidden, consistent with the hypothesis that it could be Rove. And it turns out that "Buckhead" is a well connected Republican lawyer in Atlanta.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Pinard analysis of 2004 Canadian Election

Quebec political scientist Maurice Pinard has written an excellent analysis of the election and the polls for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada.

I largely concur with his analysis of the polling and the election results. He averages the final polls to conduct his analysis. However, I would argue that if you look at the closing ten days of polling in Quebec you see a steady upward movement for the Liberals. The final poll, released Sunday June 27, predicts the outcome in Quebec precisely.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Red States and Blue States

This year’s election is close, as close as the election in 2000. It could still tilt one way or another and produce a decisive, if close, election result at the end. Much of the media attention is focused on the so-called battleground states (where polls consistently show a close race) especially the big states, namely Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. An analysis by Jeffery Simpson in the Saturday, September 4th edition of the Globe and Mail argues: “This is a national campaign in theory, but a much smaller campaign in practice. Only about a dozen states are up for grabs. Follow what's happening in those states, and you get a sense of who might win. Too complicated still? Then try this: Whichever candidate captures two or all three of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida will be president.”

Generally Simpson’s column is an excellent summary of the race but he oversimplifies by zeroing in on Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In fact, Kerry could win by taking the Gore states plus Nevada (which becoming more like California and trending Democratic), New Hampshire (in Kerry’s Massachusetts back yard) and West Virginia (traditionally Democratic although not in 2000). This would give him a margin of 274-264 in the Electoral College. You can play this game yourself on the Electoral College Calculator at Dave Leip's excellent web site.

Bush could offset losing Ohio by winning Wisconsin and Minnesota (other battleground states which Gore won and where Kerry currently leads very narrowly) and take his other 2000 states to win.

I think it is impossible at this point to say which states will appear decisive after November 2nd.

Bush has come out of the Republican convention with apparently large leads in polls from Time and Newsweek. However, Josh Marshall reports that the internal polls of both the Bush and Kerry camps place the margin at 4%. In addition, Charlie Cook, one of the best opinion analysts in the game, wrote this on August 31st: “…I put great weight in the enormous levels of pessimism among undecided voters and their apparently low opinion of Bush. I think the president's climb is still a bit uphill. My experience tells me that undecided voters invariably break against well-known, well-defined incumbents.”

My intuition all year has been that Bush will win, but I can't ignore observations like Cook's, or the possibility of news from Iraq that could upset most of the calculations.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Default party system

Political scientists will tell you that a party system changes when a new party establishes itself on the scene or an old one departs. By that standard this year’s election, which saw the advent of the new Conservative Party resulting from the Alliance-PC merger, has created a new Party system.

It is also true that 1993 was the advent of a new party system with the introduction of Reform and the BQ. I am inclined to view 1993 as the real departure from the old system. The reality is that the old pre-1993 PC’s were, to over-simplify, a coalition on the right of economic liberals and social conservatives. Mulroney temporarily added Quebec nationalists, but this was an exception to a party system that went back a long way (especially if we ignore the Socreds and CrĂ©ditistes).

The point is that this election, which produced a minority government, appears likely to have established a pattern that will be repeated as long as one large region, Quebec, gives substantial support to a purely regional party, the Bloc Québecois.

The Conservatives could finish ahead of the Liberals in the next election, but how will they win a majority? They have 99 seats now. Where do the needed 56 additional seats come from? Some gains in Atlantic Canada, plus 70 seats in Ontario, would give them the barest of majorities in some future election. The reality is that it will be exceedingly difficult to do.

The same is true for the Liberals. The Liberal performance in 2000 in Quebec looks now like an exception more than the rule, in part the product of general unhappiness in Quebec with a decaying PQ regime in Quebec City, as well as specific grievances such as forced municipal mergers. The Liberals won their majorities in the 90’s by taking nearly every seat in Ontario. This time Ontario returned to something closer to its long-term three party norm.

The three opposition leaders met recently in an attempt to find common ground and form an opposition “majority” in the House of Commons. This strikes me as unprecedented. It may ultimately turn out to amount to nothing, but thinking about how a minority House will work in the long run seems to me like a valuable exercise.