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Friday, October 26, 2012

Can Romney Afford to Skip Florida, Virginia?

Yesterday, I began typing a post examining whether it would be prudent for Mitt Romney to forgo any further campaign stops in Florida and Virginia--seeing as he's increasingly likely to win those states--in favor of less solid battleground territory, given that Republicans have a good chance at picking up Senate seats currently held by Democrats in both those states. Then I learned that Hurricane Sandy was making an impact on the campaign; Mitt Romney has already canceled two campaign stops in Virginia, and there's talk of him doing the same in Florida. The central dilemma remains, though: With eleven days left and polls showing a slight but consistent lead for the Republican ticket in these two swing states, would the nominees' time be better psent in states where they're either tied with or slightly behind the incumbents (i.e., New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada)? Or, is control of the U.S. Senate so critical that it's worth stopping in Florida and Virginia again, if only to boost the GOP candidates for Senate there?

Personally, I'd say yes to the former and no to the latter. The reason is threefold. First, a prospective "coattails" effect is usually a shaky basis for a campaign strategy. Second, time is of the essence, and at this point in the campaign, neither side can afford to waste a single hour. Third, there are also heated U.S. Senate races in Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio, and Republican victories in the first two are critical if the GOP is to retake the chamber. (Picking off Sherrod Brown in Ohio would be nice, and is certainly possible, but unlikely to be decisive.) Strategic ad buys and a campaign rall or two in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which the Obama campaign has taken for granted, might also prove essential to Romney pulling off an upset in either state, which would almost certainly make the outcome in Ohio academic. 

Whatever they decide, it might not make a difference. While the number of appearances each candidate makes in a state doubtless has some marginal impact on voters, it's ground game that's likely to make the difference at this late stage, and what effect (if any) Sandy will have on voter turnout has yet to be seen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Debunking Juan Williams’s Debunking of the “GOP’s false narratives about the Benghazi attack”

Ahead of Monday night's debate, Juan Williams, one of the few calm voices of reason on the American left, endeavored to, in his words, "make three corrections to the record about the campaign’s most controversial foreign policy topic: the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya." (There were also three other Americans who were murdered; let's not forget them.) He put out this column, in which he articulated three "false narratives" about the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi and purported to correct each one. After reading his corrections, however, I felt the need to make some corrections of my own. 

Juan first attempts to correct  "the charge that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice lied to the American people in the days after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi." I'm not going to delve into the what constitutes a "lie", but as I have explained, Ambassador Rice did make statements that were later proven to be false. In trying to exculpate her, Williams goes beyond the approved Democratic talking point--that Rice's statements, while factually inacurrate, were based on what the intelligence community told her--and tries to claim that the ambassador was actually telling the truth! 

The "simple fact," according to Williams, is that the "Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper has confirmed that Rice told the truth in describing the assessment of the intelligence community at the time of her remarks." That is a fact, but it is not so simple. Clapper's office did put out a statement on September 28 that said, in part: 

In the immediate aftermath [of the attack], there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving.
The problem is that Rice and other administration officials went beyond simply "describing the assessment of the intelligence community at the time"; on September 14th, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the press corps, "We have no information to suggest that [this] was a pre-planned ... attack." Secretary Clinton herself said this was in response to a video. Rice and others weren’t just relaying the assessment of the intelligence community; they were telling the country that the administration had no information that the attack was pre-planned or premeditated, and that was false. 

The second "false" narrative Williams attempts to correct is actually twofold, as he presents it: 

It is being charged that requests for extra security in Benghazi were denied by the administration.

The suggestion is that the attack would have been stopped, and the ambassador still alive, if the requests had been granted.
Notice that the first sentence is a factual statement, while the second is merely an inference. I actually haven't heard any Republican charge "that requests for extra security in Benghazi were denied"; there were requests for added security in Tripoli, as Williams points out in his article, not Benghazi. Maybe he's heard something I haven't. Regardless, I'll not take issue with the contrary inference(s) he draws from the indisputable fact that the administration denied requests for security reinforcements in Libya, but then Williams offers up his own opinions about this charge:
There is an air of hypocrisy about this second charge from Republican critics.

House Republicans voted to cut nearly $300 million in funding from Embassy Security as part of their most recent budget.
That is true; however, that budget never became law, so these cuts were never made, and Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security,
testified under oath earler this month that budget considerations played no role the decision not to increase security.

Williams's "third and final correction comes in response to the charge that the attack on Benghazi is evidence that al Qaeda is resurgent." Williams says this "attack" comes from the Romney campaign, who he accuses of arguing that, "notwithstanding the Obama administration’s claims, the threat from al Qaeda has not significantly diminished despite the death of Osama bin Laden."

I've not seen/heard anyone on the Romney campaign make this claim; what I have seen and heard is
Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, tell CBS News that "al Qaida has come back." Williams curiously doesn't mention this; instead, he argues that "missions authorized by the Obama administration have killed the top commanders of the terrorist group, including bin Laden," and that "President Obama’s drone strikes targeting al Qaeda members have decimated the remaining members of the group."

In support of this proposition, Williams quotes National Secretary Council spokesman Tommy Vietor as saying that “Our assessment that we have decimated al Qaeda leadership is unchanged. Dozens of their senior leadership have been taken off the battlefield as a result of the president's anti-terror policies.”

If the statements by Allen and Vietor can be reconciled, then it's probably because "decimat[ing] al Qaeda leadership" hasn't translated into quelling the threat this vast terrorist network poses to us and the rest of the civilized world. The claim (which again, I haven't seen anyone on the Romney campaign make) that the attack on our consulate in Benghazi evinces a resurgence on the part of al Qaeda might be better "debunked" by pointing out that we're not sure al Qaeda had anything to do with the attack, but Williams doesn't even try to argue this point. Instead, he offers a flimsy argument that doesn't even rebut the straw man he created. 

Williams concludes his piece by accusing the GOP of a "political strategy that is based on deliberate misinformation about the Benghazi assault," a very serious charge. As you can see, however, none of the three specific memes Juan attributes to the GOP contains "deliberate misinformation". 

This is serious business. A U.S. consulate was beset by terrorists who took the lives of four Americans. The Obama administration has not been straight with us about what they knew and when they knew it. If the best defense our president's supporters can put forward consists of hair-splitting and straw-man arguments, then maybe. well...our president's actions were pretty untenable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Most (and Least) Accurate Polls

As we head into the final stretch of the campaign, we're likely to be inundated by a spate of poll results from all kinds of different organizations, and if, well, everything is any indication, then different pollsters are likely to show very different things about the state of the race in key swing states. There may be no point in trying to make sense of mind-bogglingly contradictory survey results, but in case anyone is interested, I took a look at the polling done in the run-up to the 2010 midterms and constructed a little table on which pollsters came the closest to foretelling the election results in states that are now considered "battleground" territory and which missed the mark.

I measured polling accuracy by looking at the results of the last public poll of each race by each pollster and comparing the margin between the two highest-polling candidates (sometimes the only two candidates) to the eventual winner’s margin of victory over the second-place finisher. If there was more than one poll tied for most or least accurate by this metric, then I compared each candidate’s individual poll position in the survey results with their eventual share of the final vote. This is why PPP is listed as having the most accurate poll of the Florida governor’s race despite the fact that their final pre election poll had Alex Sink (D) leading Rick Scott (R), the eventual victor, 48% to 47%. This was rated "most accurate" notwithstanding Scott’s victory because it underestimated Scott’s eventual share of the vote (48.9%) by only 1.9 percentage points, while overestimating Sink’s vote share (47.7%) by only 0.3 points. The next-most accurate survey of this race was conducted by Rasmussen Reports, which had Scott leading by three points heading into Election Day.

Most Accurate Poll
Least Accurate Poll
Ohio Gov.
Pennsylvania Gov.
Florida Gov.
Colorado Gov.
Colorado Sen.
Florida Sen.
Iowa Sen.
Nevada Sen.
New Hampshire Sen.
North Carolina Sen.
Ohio Sen.
Pennsylvania Sen.
Wisconsin Sen.
Wisconsin Gov.
Nevada Gov.
Iowa Gov.
New Mexico Gov.
Michigan Gov.
New Hampshire Gov.
*Nailed it! (Poll results conformed exactly to election results.)

Of course, not all these races were as close as the presidential race is this year. The Senate races in Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire, and the gubernatorial elections in Colorado and Michigan, were all blowouts. Take that however you like. Also notice that the above table does not include any data from Virginia, which had neither a U.S. Senate race nor a gubernatorial election in 2010. In the 2009 race for governor there, SurveyUSA was right on the money; its final poll before Election Day showed Bob McDonnell (R) leading his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, by eighteen points 58% to 40%. McDonnell won that election with 59% of the vote to 41% for Deeds. That was three years ago, however, so it may not be worth much.

Finally, there are a handful of states that are assuredly not up for grabs in the presidential election but are experiencing heated U.S. Senate and/or gubernatorial races. For those who are interested, here are my findings on polls of 2010 races in those states.

Most Accurate Poll
Least Accurate Poll
Connecticut Governor
U.S. Senate – Connecticut
Maine­ Governor
Massachusetts Governor
U.S. Senate – Washington

Monday, October 22, 2012

PPP Uses D+8 Sample to Show Obama Up 1 in Ohio

I had to smile on Saturday when I saw that a Public Policy Polling survey showed Mitt Romney within one point of President Obama in Ohio. It’s not just that a Democratic polling firm says it’s a one-point race in what seems to have become Obama’s one-state firewall, although that is significant; the sample breakdown indicates that their sample consisted of 42% Democrats and only 34% Republicans. This eight-point Democratic advantage is consistent with 2008 exit poll results from the Buckeye State, but given that both parties have lost ground among registered voters, who increasingly identify as "independent", it’s difficult to understand why PPP (or any pollster, for that matter) would survey a greater percentage of political partisans and a smaller percentage of self-described independents when compared to the 2008 electorate.

In other polling news, four national polls out this morning all show Romney leading Obama. He's up by three points in the latest Monmouth University poll, 48% to 45% for Obama. The Rasmussen Tracking Poll and Politico/GWU/Battleground Poll both have him ahead by two, 49%-47%. Gallup's tracking poll continues to give Romney his largest lead, 51 to 45 percent. It would be easy to dismiss that as an outlier, but in addition to being the most experienced and reputable outfit in this field, Gallup also has a pretty good track record in recent elections. On October 20, 2008, they showed Obama leading McCain by seven points among likely voters; he won the election by seven points nationally. On October 24, 2004, they had George W. Bush leading John Kerry, 51% to 46%. President Bush won re-election with 51% of the popular vote; Kerry received 48%. So, despite the naysayers trying to discredit this enduring monument of polling, recent history indicates that their presidential election polls conducted around this time in elections past closely line up with the eventual outcome. 

What should really trouble the Obama campaign and their supporters is the trend in some of these polls (or, in the case of Rasmussen, which hasn't shown the president leading Romney in two weeks, the lack of one). The Governor's two-point lead in the Politico poll represents a three-point swing from last week, when they had the president up by one point, 49% to 48%. Monmouth's poll shows that Romney is up a point and Obama has dropped a point from their last survey, which showed the Republican leading, 47% to 46%. The candidates are tied nationally in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll at 47 percent, but that's a decline in Obama's poll position from their previous national survey, which had the president ahead with 49% of the vote to 46% for Mitt Romney. Not only does this show the lack of any measurable "bounce" from the second debate for Obama, but it crystallizes his dismal (for an incumbent) poll position, well below 50% with fifteen days to go before Election Day and early voting already underway.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Column: Obama and Biden were winning—until they faced actual opponents | Washington Free Beacon

Matthew Continetti, the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon and one of my favorite journalists, has penned another excellent column that I urge you all to read (especially if you're going to vote for Obama).

Truly, reality is the poison that will kill Obama and Biden's chances of victory next month (if only we can administer it to enough voters in time).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Oh, OH...

If you haven't seen last night's debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), then, well, I don't really care. Frankly, if you're like me and already know who you're voting for but tuned in hoping to witness an epic clash between a skilled, experienced debater with a propensity toward making gaffes and a policy wonk engaging in his first one-on-one, nationally televised debate, then you probably were disappointed. I don't care to talk about it; instead, I want to focus on the presidential race in that most critical of battlegrounds: Ohio.

Back in June, I made a short video about the 2012 presidential campaign in Ohio and highlighted what I though were each candidates' strengths and weaknesses as they tried to sway voters in the state. Long story short: it was a toss-up then, and it's a toss-up now.

There was a time, though, when it looked like Obama might be running away with Ohio, leaving the Romney campaign trying to fathom a realistic path to victory without what has long been the sine quo non of a Republican electoral majority. From Labor Day through the first presidential debate last Wednesday, every public poll of the presidential race in the Buckeye State showed Obama leading. All the pollsters who had been regularly polling the state had Romney losing ground to the president, who had begun to crack 50% in some surveys.

According to polls released in the last week, however, the race in Ohio is back to a dead heat. Five different pollsters--WeAskAmerica, ARG, SurveyUSA, Gravis Marketing and Rasmussen Reports--published survey results showing the presidential candidates within a single point of each other in the state, a statistical dead heat. Given this consistency among reputable independent polling organizations, a Marist poll of Ohio voters conducted for NBC and the Wall Street Journal that has President Obama leading Governor Romney by six points, 51%-45%, deserves some skepticism. But this even without these five large grains of salt, the Marist poll should be difficult to digest. Look at the crosstabs, and you'll find that the sample of likely voters was 40% Democrats and only 29% Republicans. To put that in perspective, exit polls indicated that, in 2008 (the historical zenith of Democratic turnout in modern times), 39% of voters in Ohio identified as Democrats, 31% as Republicans, and the rest were independents. So the question this poll begs is: Do you really expect the Democrats' turnout edge over Republicans this year to be 22% greater in Ohio than it was in 2008, especially considering there are now 67,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state?

Even with the Marist poll (and a CNN/Opinion Research poll showing Obama up four points in the state), the president's advantage in the RealClearPolitics average of the seven most recent Ohio polls is only 1.3 percentage points. That's down from 5.5 percentage points just eight days ago.

If accurate, then these numbers represent a statistical anamoly: Obama is running ahead of his national poll position in Ohio. As of today, the president trails Mitt Romney in the RCP average of national polls by one percentage point. Yet, in 2008, he won the Buckeye State by a 4.6-point margin, well less than his 7.3-point margin of victory over John McCain in the nationwide popular vote. In fact, in the past nine presidential elections, the Republican candidate has received a greater share of the vote in Ohio than he has nationally. Are we to expect that, with no advantage in party identification and no recent shift toward their side in statewide elections (Republicans pretty much ran the table in 2010.), the Democrats are poised to pull off what would be a historical aberration in Ohio? 

The troublesome sign for Romney is that he has yet to break 50% in the state. Obama may have a lower trough, but he also seems to have the higher ceiling.

Still, with the race this close, candidates doubt polls at their own peril, and that's probably why both candidates are treating Ohio like it's the key to victory. Romney and Ryan appeared together at a rally in Lancaster today; it was the second time in three days the former Massachusetts governor had campaigned in the state. Obama hasn't been in Ohio since Monday but has made more visits to the state this year than Romney has.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Romney Rising

Mitt Romney greets audience members at a campaign rally in St.Petersburg, Florida on Friday. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

When Scott Pelley of CBS asked him how he would turn this campaign around, Mitt Romney confidently told him, "Well, it doesn't need a turnaround."

Whether the Republican nominee for president needed one or not, things certainly have turned around in the last few days. Romney went from trailing Obama by two points, 47% to 49%, in the Rasmussen tracking poll to leading him by the same margin. He's cut the president's lead to two points in the latest Politico/GWU/Battleground survey, and the two are tied at 47% in National Journal's Congressional Connection poll. Last month, Obama led Romney by seven points in their survey.

One of the most interesting findings to note is that, for the first time that I've noticed, in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls, Obama's poll position is lower than his approval rating. That can either be good news for the president (because it shows he has room to grow) or for Romney (because it shows that even voters who approve of the president's job performance aren't supporting him). 

Of course, the national popular vote won't decide the election, but state polls show the Romney-Ryan campaign surging in crucial territory.

In Florida, President Obama's lead over Mitt Romney is down to just one point in the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey; last month, they had the president up five points, 49%-44%. Other pollsters have the Republican ticket opening up a lead in the Sunshine State. Romney leads Obama by two points, 49%-47%, according to a survey conducted on Thursday by Rasmussen Reports. Last month, Rasmussen had Obama ahead in the state, 48%-46%. WeAskAmerica finds an even larger shift toward the Republican ticket: their latest poll of Florida voters shows Romney leading Obama by three points, 49%-46%; that mirrors the results of their Florida poll last month, which found the president on top by the same margin. 

In Virginia, the shift is even more stark. A Marist poll conducted for NBC and the Wall Street Journal finds Romney trailing the president by two points, 46%-48%, but that's narrower than the five-point lead Obama enjoyed in their last survey of Virginia voters, conducted less than a month ago. Romney leads Obama in the commonwealth, 49%-48%, according to Rasmussen Reports; that result mirrors the state of the race in their last poll of Virginians, which had Obama up by the same margin. We Ask America shows a six-point swing toward Romney in Old Dominion; he leads the president by three in their latest poll; last month, they had Obama up three points on Romney in Virginia.

Out west, the poll numbers are more muddled. Romney leads the president by three points in Colorado, 49%-46%, according to a Gravis Marketing survey; last month, they had Obama ahead in the state, 50%-46%. A poll conducted by the University of Denver, however, gives the president a four-point lead among Colorado voters, though we don't have an earlier survey they've conducted to compare those results to. In Nevada, where the president has enjoyed a small but consistent lead all year, Gravis Marketing has him ahead by just one point, 49%-48%. The RealClearPolitics average of the latest Nevada polls pegs Obama's lead in the state at 4.6 percentage points. 

Finally, in the all-important swing state of Ohio, it's a one-point race, according to American Research Group, Rasmussen Reports and WeAskAmerica. ARG and WeAskAmerica both have Romney up one point in the Buckeye State, while Rasmussen reported that Romney was down one point there. Last month, Obama led Romney by one point in an ARG survey of Ohio voters, and other surveys gave him as much as a ten-point lead in the state.

It would be easy to credit this marked surge in the Republican ticket's poll numbers to Mitt Romney's rout of Obama in the first presidential debate, but nearly all of the aforementioned polls were conducted, in whole or in part, before Wednesday night's debate. The conclusion is inescapable: the Romney surge began before he cleaned the president's clock last Wednesday in Denver.

What could explain this sudden shift in momentum in a race that, let's be honest, appeared to be slipping away from Romney as recently as last weekend? Perhaps the Libya fiasco is finally taking its toll on the president, but then why hasn't his approval rating dropped along with his poll numbers? Maybe the fundamentals of a race that should have been Romney's to lose all along are finally catching up with Obama, but if that's the case, then what took so long? Maybe those TV ads that feature Romney just sitting down and talking into the camera are resonating with voters in a way that those earlier, business-presentationy commercials with the fancy graphics didn't. Whatever the cause, it now appears to be the Obama campaign that's in desperate need of a turnaround.