Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is Obama a Progressive President?

While many seem dubious at the moment, I have no doubt about Obama, despite my view that he ought simply to get out of Afghanistan.

Sometimes it is the small unnoticed things that tell the tale:

From the Washington Post by way of the Huffington Post:
Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street's influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.

The new policy -- issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel -- may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts.

Of course they are fighting back. The Huffington Post story:
"Not surprisingly, lobby groups, corporations, and other K Street influencers are up in arms.
The reaction from the lobbying community has been swift and overwhelmingly negative. Some of the loudest criticism has come from the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs), a collection of more than a dozen panels that provide policy advice and technical assistance to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. The ITACs, whose roughly 400 members include at least 130 lobbyists, officials say, have taken the lead in attacking the White House policy as misguided and harmful to U.S. business interests; a letter to Obama from committee chairs last month included executives from Boeing, IBM, Harley-Davidson and International Paper.

"This action will severely undermine the utility of the advisory committee process," the letter read. ". . . The characteristics that make many Advisors valuable to the Administration [are] the same characteristics that are being used to artificially disqualify them from participation in the Committee system."

You can read White House Counsel's full letter responding to lobbyists' critiques of the decision here. A brief excerpt:

I assure you our action was not provoked, as you suggest, by "criminal and unethical behavior of a few individuals." Indeed there have been some egregious abuses, but this decision was not meant to besmirch anyone who is a registered federal lobbyist.

It is about the system as a whole.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Harper vs Obama

Recently columnist Norman Spector asserted that a year after the 2008 elections Harper is more popular than Obama. One finds echoes of this in other columns as well.

Here is Spector on November 16:

Yet today, Mr. Harper is flirting with a majority. Canadians have grown increasingly comfortable with him, as judged by his approval ratings. And the Conservatives just won two of four by-elections, including a surprise victory in Quebec – where conventional wisdom had them dead, if not completely buried.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has suffered the steepest decline of the 12 elected presidents since Gallup began polling.
Minor details: the last poll on the subject (in October by Angus Reid) found that Canadians disapproved of Mr. Harper by a margin of 45-34, while the aggregate of all U.S. polls currently find that, by a margin of 48.4% to 46.5%, more Americans approve of Mr. Obama as President than disapprove. Overall, as of today, a majority of 54.4% to 39.1% have a favourable view of Mr. Obama.

Of course Mr. Obama inherited an economy going over a cliff that has just barely begun to reverse course, while Canada has benefited from higher global commodity prices, the product of economic strength reasserting itself in Asia and elsewhere.

As Brendan Nyhan noted in August:
The approval ratings of presidents tend to decline over time... And in Obama's case, he faces a poor economy that will push his approval numbers into the 40s very soon.
Despite a more favourable economic environment due to better luck, Harper is not doing as well as Obama. Of course Mr. Spector cherry picked just the Gallup Poll. Nonetheless, Obama has fallen and will likely fall further, but Mr. Spector's comparison is, to say the least, deeply misleading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 9 by-election in Montmagny

There is a certain amount of nonsense being spouted about Monday's by-elections. For example, Mulroney biographer L. Ian Macdonald, discussing the outcome in Montmagny-l'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, describes "the Conservatives taking a seat from the Bloc... (as) a game-changer". This was the only by-election result of any significance on Monday, but Macdonald vastly overstates its importance.

He seems to have forgotten the Conservative victory on September 17, 2007 in the Roberval-Lac St. Jean by-election where the Conservatives came from 8 points back in 2006 to win by 40 points. By the time of the 2008 election, however, that lead had shrunk back to 4 points and the Conservatives wound up with fewer seats in Quebec not more. Was that 2007 result a game-changer? Obviously, it was not. What we saw instead was a replay in Montmagny-l'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup on Monday night where a previously second place Conservative party won a seat from the Bloc, albeit with much smaller gains than in Roberval in 2007.

Jeffery Simpson was closer to the mark in the Globe today:

Slowly, the polls – for what they're worth – showed a drift away from the Liberals toward the Conservatives, a drift occurring in other parts of Canada, too.

On Monday, therefore, the Conservatives took a seat (Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup) previously held by the Bloc in the Lower St. Lawrence, a part of Quebec that historically prefers any party but les rouges . It's part of a band of seats in Quebec on both sides of the St. Lawrence that is nationalist, rather anti-elitist, rural and small town, and that has voted for the Union Nationale, the Créditistes, the Parti Québécois, the Bloc and now the Conservatives.

The Conservatives chose a popular local mayor, Bernard Généreux, who captured nearly 43 per cent of the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win their 11th Quebec seat. No one should read much into by-elections. Still, it's an encouraging Conservative result.

Simpson overstates the les rouges reference - Pearson and Trudeau were successful here. He could also have noted the significance of being on the government side during a period when pork has a blue tinge.

TC calculates that the Conservative gains in Montmagny by itself are consistent with the Conservatives winning about 17 seats overall in Quebec. Notably the Conservative gains in Montmagny were not echoed in the Hochelaga numbers so even that number is doubtful. One aspect of this we should not overlook: the Bloc vote is generally younger and therefore less likely to turn out for a by-election. This would likely account for some of the difference in Roberval between 2007 and 2008.

Overall the Conservatives remain in a strong position, similar to the 2008 election outcome (as noted in my previous post) courtesy of the incompetence of the Ignatieff Liberals to date and the inability of the NDP, which had a good night on Monday, to break out decisively in a way that might allow them to be seen as the main alternative to the government.

TC continues to find the Conservatives' strength surprising given the recession, although strong commodity prices have partially shielded Canada from its worst consequences. And the political fallout from the downturn is not finished given its impact on budgets, so we may yet see some negatives for the government. However, one of the opposition parties must be seen as a plausible alternative to Harper, and we don't have that yet.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The majority is a minority

There seems to be an assumption floating around (for example, the opening line here) that the Conservatives would win a majority if an election were held today. TC averaged three polls out last week, from Nanos, Environics and Ekos, and came to the following seat numbers:

C - 145
L - 82
NDP - 34
BQ - 47
Oth. - 1

This is roughly identical to the last estimate of Democratic Space.

With the arrival of Peter Donolo to add some accomplished political experience to Ignatieff's office, which had none before, we may wonder whether these numbers (that are so close to 2008) represent a Liberal bottoming out and a Conservative peak. The NDP and Bloc continue to hold their own.

An election seems a long way off.