Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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CBO Director States Affordable Care Act Will Reduce Unemployment; Paul Ryan Corrects Republican Misinformation

There has been a lot of false information spread on the CBO report, initially primarily from reporters not understanding the details of health care policy followed by conservative media intentionally promoting the incorrect interpretation of the report. As I discussed here and here, the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office demonstrates the economic success of the Affordable Care Act, but some in the media were misled by debunked conservative talking points and initially reported inaccurately on the report. In testimony before the House Budget Committee CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that his report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Video above.

While it has primarily been Republicans spreading false information on the report and Democrats, as in the exchange above, working to set the record straight. There is at least one exception. Paul Ryan has corrected his fellow Republicans:

At least one Republican is setting the record straight on what the Congressional Budget Office actually said this week about Obamacare and its effect on jobs.

House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) explained in a Wednesday hearing with CBO director Doug Elmendorf that the health care reform law wouldn’t cost the U.S. economy more than 2 million jobs, as many of his colleagues alleged, but that Americans would choose to work less.

“I want to make sure we accurately understand what it is you are saying,” Ryan said, before leading Elmendorf through a series of questions to explain the report and its findings.

Ryan and Elmendorf combined to explain that Obamacare would lead to a decrease in the number of hours worked by up to 2 percent in 2024. Most of that drop, the CBO said, would be the result of Americans choosing not to work, for various reasons, but not because employers would want to hire fewer workers on account of the law. Translate those lost hours into full-time employment and it equals up to 2.5 million jobs by 2024. But that’s not the same as jobs being cut.

“Just to understand, it is not that employers are laying people off,” Ryan said.

“That is right,” Elmendorf said.

For the moment I’ll ignore the ridiculous stuff he also said and give him credit for the point where he does get it right.

The Affordable Care Act helps millions of people (including myself, having to buy insurance on the individual market), many people I know personally (such as affluent friends whose spouses have had to work in jobs they otherwise don’t need purely so that they could obtain health insurance), and many patients who previously could not obtain insurance coverage.  The right wing media in return repeatedly reports “horror stories” which turn out to be incorrect on closer examination–just like their reports on the CBO report are incorrect.

Beyond all these (and additional) benefits related to health care, the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, boost the economy, and reduce the deficit. The conservative argument for repeal makes no sense, which is why Republicans are starting to back away from this ridiculous position.

How can anyone support a position which will cause misery for millions of people, increase unemployment, harm the economy, and increase the deficit?

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The CBO Report On The Success Of The Affordable Care Act

The Congressional Budget Office report released yesterday showed that the Affordable Care Act is getting off to a tremendous success despite the early computer problems in the exchanges. The report showed that millions of additional people are receiving coverage, the law results in a reduction in the deficit, and frees workers from the “insurance trap.”

The report also turned out to be both a test of the understanding of health care policy by reporters and of the dishonesty of conservative news sources. Health care policy is quite complicated and it is not unusual for reporters to make mistakes in the coverage of a report such as this. Many misunderstood the predictions of people leaving the work force leading to some rather untrue headlines yesterday. Needless to say, the conservative media continues to make the same false claims, ignoring the actual meaning of the CBO report, and will continue to spread this misinformation.

I was pleased to see  Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, who has made some major mistakes on health care policy coverage in the past, got it right on this one.  His fact-checker article was entitled “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”. I think it helped that he specifically wrote about what the CBO report really said, as opposed to getting into the more complicated details of health care policy. Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.”

The word deliberately is important as unfortunately some people are going to be misled by the initial incorrect headlines and by the conservative media which will continue to make this false claim.  The reduction in employment described in the report is one of the positive aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Up until now, many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their jobs.  I know affluent people whose spouses work purely for the health insurance as this was the only way they could obtain this. This change frees people in their 60′s to retire early if they choose. People who would prefer to change jobs will be able to do so without losing their insurance. People will also be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance, which will also probably turn out to be beneficial to the economy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct.

On a related issue, the ability to keep affordable health insurance after losing a job means that people who develop a serious illness and become too sick to continue working will no longer lose their insurance. This was a common cause of bankruptcy in the past.

The New York Times looked at the benefits described by the CBO in an editorial today:

The report estimated that — thanks to an increase in insurance coverage under the act and the availability of subsidies to help pay the premiums — many workers who felt obliged to stay in a job that provided health benefits would now be able to leave those jobs or choose to work fewer hours than they otherwise would have. In other words, the report is about the choices workers can make when they are no longer tethered to an employer because of health benefits. The cumulative effect on the labor supply is the equivalent of 2.5 million fewer full-time workers by 2024.

Some workers may have had a pre-existing condition and will now be able to leave work because insurers must accept all applicants without regard to health status and charge premiums unrelated to health status. Some may have felt they needed to keep working to pay for health insurance, but now new government subsidies will help pay premiums, making it more possible for them to leave their jobs.

The report clearly stated that health reform would not produce an increase in unemployment (workers unable to find jobs) or underemployment (part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week). It also found “no compelling evidence” that, as of now, part-time employment has increased as a result of the reform law, a frequent claim of critics. Whether that will hold up after a mandate that requires employers to provide coverage, which was delayed until 2015, kicks in is uncertain.

The report also verified that millions more people will be covered by health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act:

Given the rocky start, 14 million additional Americans covered by insurance through the exchanges and Medicaid is sound progress; and the budget office projects a sharp increase in enrollment in 2015 and 2016 and a bigger net reduction in the number of uninsured. Its projections for subsequent years remain essentially unchanged. In 2017, it predicts 12 million more in Medicaid and 24 million more in private coverage through the exchanges.

Update: CBO Director States Affordable Care Act Will Reduce Unemployment; Paul Ryan Corrects Republican Misinformation

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CBO Report Shows Affordable Care Act Frees Employees From Working Or Losing Employer-Based Insurance

The Congressional Budget Office has a report out today which is creating a lot of attention, largely due to a misleading but sensational headline in publications such as The Hill regarding decreased employment attributed to the Affordable Care Act.  They predict that there will be two million fewer full time workers by 2017. The question of employers hiring less due to the law is controversial, with evidence so far not showing the reduced hiring some have predicted. The key factor here, as described by The Wall Street Journal, is that “the jobs figures largely represent Americans who will choose not to work rather than those who will lose their jobs or have their workweeks reduced because of the law.”

In other words, this solves a major problem we have faced in the past–people being forced to work beyond when they otherwise desired because they would not be able to obtain insurance if they lost their insurance through their employer. People in their 60′s would have the ability they previously did not have of retiring before they qualified for Medicare at age 65.

Another factor might be that some people will have an economic incentive to work less. One aspect of the Affordable Care Act which should be fixed is the rapid manner in which the subsidies end once the income threshold is reached. People making just over the levels which qualify them for subsidies would be economically better off by working less and bringing their incomes below the threshold. The subsidies should be phased out more gradually to eliminate this problem.

The prediction of  two million fewer workers by 2017 also has to be taken with a grain of salt. There are aspects of the Affordable Care Act which will likely lead to economic improvement but which cannot be scored by the CBO. Some people will leave the job market, but it is also possible that many people, no longer needing insurance through their employer, will take advantage of this to start or work for small businesses. As the Affordable Care Act reduces the burden of providing health care to companies now providing it, these companies might be able to expand more  than expected. Improvements in the health of employees who obtain health care coverage could lead to improved productivity. Decreases in health care costs as a result of the Affordable Care Act should provide additional economic benefits.

As a consequence of the problems with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, the CBO projects that six million people will sign up in private health plans through the exchanges this year, down from their previous projection of seven million. Most likely the number will increase in subsequent years, and it remains possible that increases in last-minute enrollment might lead to higher figures for this year. Another factor of concern is that some people are not signing up through the exchanges due to false information and a campaign from the right wing advocating that people refuse to sign up.

The report also shows that, while Republicans are demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the CBO found that the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. It is ironic that this Republican demand (actually more about politics than improving the deficit) would lead to a higher deficit.

We are no longer hearing about trillion dollar deficits. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP. The CBO predicts a further reduction in 2015 to $478 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP. They do project increases in the deficit after 2015 primarily due to weaknesses in the economy. It would seem that at present government policy should be to place greater emphasis on stimulating the economy as opposed  to concentrating on short term decreases in the deficit, as more Americans now support.

Update: The Fact Checker at The Washington Post says “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million job.” He awarded three Pinocchios to those, such as many media organizations which reported on the CBO report incorrectly, intentionally make this claim.

Update II: The CBO Report On The Success Of The Affordable Care Act

Update III: CBO Director States Affordable Care Act Will Reduce Unemployment; Paul Ryan Corrects Republican Misinformation

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John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

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Republicans Threatening To Tie Raising Debt Ceiling To Eliminating Risk Corridors From Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act was written so that, despite noisy protests based purely upon partisanship, it would be a win-win situation. Consumers benefit from new protections against abuses from insurance companies and more affordable coverage. Insurance companies benefit from increased profits from increased customers. There are potential business risks in a new situation, and while insurance companies should profit from increased business, insurance companies do have challenges in developing initial premiums when they cannot be certain as to the makeup of the new purchasers of insurance. The Affordable Care Act does include protections for insurance companies, and ironically it is now the Republicans who are playing politics and talking about repealing these aspects of the law.

House Republicans are considering attaching a provision that would prevent a “bailout” of insurance companies under ObamaCare to a one-year increase in the debt limit.The Republican conference met behind closed doors Friday on the final day of their annual retreat to hash out a plan for raising the debt limit, which the Treasury Department says must happen within a month to avoid a first-ever default.

The House Republican leadership has not settled on a plan, but an idea that gained support during the meeting, according to a person in the room, was to repeal the so-called “risk corridors” provision in the healthcare law, which Republicans have labeled a potential bailout of insurance companies.

Conservatives have mentioned the risk corridors provisions repeatedly in recent weeks in connection with the debt limit, as Republicans seek legislation that could win some Democratic support.

The party has largely abandoned hopes of gaining a major concession from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt limit now that President Obama has vowed never to negotiate over the issue again.

Kaiser Health News has summarized three portions of the Affordable Care Act which provide protection to insurance companies:

–Risk adjustment redistributes money from insurers that cover people who tend to be healthier to plans whose enrollees are sicker. Non-grandfathered plans in the individual and small group insurance markets – including those not participating in the law’s online marketplaces, or exchanges – must participate. Insurers who have more low-risk enrollees contribute to the fund, which then makes payments to insurers with more high-risk enrollees.Eligible insurers are compared based on the average financial risk of their enrollees, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The program, which has no sunset date, is financed by insurers’ payments. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the Foundation).

–The reinsurance program is a temporary provision that builds on the risk adjustment provision to compensate insurers who have enrollees with especially high claims. Since sick people need health insurance, they have the greatest incentive to enroll and could, in the early years of the law’s implementation, make up a larger amount of the “risk pool,” according to the American Academy of Actuaries.

Individual, small group and large group health plans, as well as self-funded plans, will contribute to the program, which lasts through 2016. They pay a $63 tax assessed on nearly every health insurance enrollee for 2014 (the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a rate of $44 per person in 2015).  The money collected is then used to help insurers in the individual market with high-cost cases that reach beyond a catastrophic cap. The fund would reimburse insurers for 80 percent of costs for claims between $60,000 and $250,000 per person, although HHS has proposed some changes to the program. Without the reinsurance tax, individual market premiums would be about 10 to 15 percent higher, according to HHS.

–Risk corridors – that’s the provision getting the most attention these days – limit plans’ losses and gains. Actual claims are compared to the claims insurers anticipated when they set their premiums.  If claims are below specific target amounts, they return part of that money to the government. If claims exceed specific target amounts, HHS reimburses the insurer for some of the money.

The risk corridors program, like the reinsurance program, is scheduled to be a temporary measure and sunset in 2016. But insurers could pressure lawmakers to extend the program.

The Republicans want to be able to say that they forced the repeal of part of the Affordable Care Act despite Obama’s insistence he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling. My suspicion is that they will settle for any part of the law, and feel that Democrats might be least likely to fight over a part which can be called a bail out to insurance companies.

Health corridors are commonly used when using private insurance plans to expand health care coverage. They are a part of the Swiss health care plan which uses private insurance companies to provide universal coverage. They are also a part of the Medicare D plans established under George Bush. It is possible that the risk corridors might not be necessary. Data from the first insurance company to release information on sales in the exchanges show that WellPoint is doing better than expected. Until we have data from more insurance companies it will be difficult to see if there would be a negative impact to eliminating the risk corridors. This protection against losses allow insurance companies to offer lower premiums than they might otherwise offer, both saving money for consumers and reducing subsidies which would need to be paid.

These protections  might help solve another problem which the individual market has faced. Many markets have had a limited choice of insurance plans, often with a single plan dominating a market. Increasing competition would provide greater choice in the exchanges and probably lead to lower premiums. Insurance companies have become experts at cherry picking customers. Even though they can no longer can deny coverage to individuals, larger companies already established in an area would be at an advantage in marketing to healthier customers, making it riskier for new companies to enter an unfamiliar market. These measures protect insurance companies from loses if they wind up with a sicker pool than other companies, making it easier for companies to enter new markets and offer more choices.

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Early Odds Look Good For Hillary Clinton To Be Elected President And Democrats To Control Senate in 2016

If you believe the current polls, Hillary Clinton’s victory for the Democratic nomination is even more inevitable than it was in 2008 as she has the largest lead in a Democratic nomination race ever. She leads Joe Biden by a margin of 73 percent to 12 percent. Elizabeth Warren pulls in 8 percent. While 2008 showed that inevitability isn’t enough to win the nomination, it is hard to see her getting defeated. There is unlikely to be another Barack Obama to challenge her, and she is certainly not going to repeat some of the mistakes she made such as paying too little attention to the caucus states. For comparison, in December 2006 Clinton led Obama 39 percent to 17 percent.

While it was always questionable if Chris Christie could win the Republican nomination after being photographed with Barack Obama, Christie is now falling in the polls, such as here. Huckabee, who is not hurt by his recent “libido” gaff among Republicans,  moved up. In terms of election strategy he is the anti-Christie. While Christie might have made the Republicans competitive in some northern states, Huckabee would leave the Republicans as a regional party with regards to national elections. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush hasn’t decided yet whether he will run.

Are we looking at another Clinton vs. Bush presidential campaign?

But that is all a long time away. Things can still change. This year we have Congressional elections and Republicans generally have an edge in off year elections due to lower turn out among minorities and younger voters. The party out of office also has an edge when running against a president with low approval ratings. Democrats appear scared when they are now talking about shifting money from the House races, where they have little chance of taking control, to the Senate where either party can win control.

Winning control of the House is unlikely due to the need for Democrats to win by over seven percent  due to gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in fewer urban districts. Democrats do have a couple of things going in their favor for a possible upset–increased public recognition that the Republicans are more extreme, and responsible for the gridlock, and more people believing that even their own Congressman does not deserve to be reelected.

Odds remain against the Democrats in the House and they have to defend Senate seats in red states this year. If they can hang on until 2016, the Democrats are in a much better position between their advantages in the electoral college, more favorable electorate in 2016, and as the Republicans will be forced to defend several Senate seats in blue states.

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The 2014 State Of The Union Address

Boehner SOTU

The State of the Union address (transcript here) was rather modest, considering the limitations Obama faces in dealing with Congressional Republicans who have had the policy of opposing Obama’s agenda on political grounds since the day he took office. The few policy proposals had already been released, such as an executive order regarding the minimum wage at companies receiving government contacts. There were a few moments during the speech worth noting. He began with what was basically a defense of his record on the economy:

The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.

Of course, in what is essentially a disproof of trickle-down economics, he recognized that problems remain:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

This sure makes the right wing claims that Obama is a socialist sound ridiculous. Plus there is his support for small business:

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.

While it may or may not be wise, I always wish that Democrats would do more to directly take on the absurd positions held by many Republicans. Unfortunately I’m not sure that showing Republican denial of science would be politically successful in a country with such vast scientific illiteracy. At least we did get this:

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.

He is right about climate change, but the debate is only settled in terms of the scientific knowledge. Climate change is a fact. So is evolution. And the earth is round. Try to convince the Republicans.

Obama also defended his record on health care:

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obama said little about the problems caused by Republican obstructionism, but did mention the “forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.” I believe the exact number is forty-seven votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Among the lines which got the most attention of the night, when discussing equal pay for equal work:

It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.

The official Republican response was rather empty, and there were also two Tea Party responses. The bulk of the opposition I saw to Obama on line (and in an op-ed by Ted Cruz)  has been to the use of executive orders, ignoring how much fewer he has used than his predecessors. Where were all the conservatives now complaining about Executive power during the Bush years, when Bush went far further than Obama is contemplating?  I doubt their complaints will receive much sympathy from swing voters (the few who exist). As I pointed out recently, voters are realizing that the Republicans are responsible for gridlock, even if the media often overlooks this in their efforts at appearing objective by treating both parties equally when they are not mirror images of each other.

sotu_ideology2

All in all, the address was liberal but hardly ground-breaking. The Monkey Cage has compared every SOTU address since 1986 based upon ideology. This year’s speech was placed around the middle of previous addresses from Obama and Bill Clinton. What I really found interesting about this chart was how far the Republicans moved to the right under Bush. State of the Union addresses are hardly an exact measurement of the ideology of a president, but it is interesting that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush are far closer to the two Democratic presidents compared to George W. Bush. George W. Bush Started out comparable to the previous Republican presidents in his first speech, then moved significantly to the right. Maybe this was the result of 9/11.

If nothing else, I was happy that it wasn’t Mitt Romney giving the speech. I’m imagining Mitt Romney spending the evening going up and down in his car elevator. I couldn’t resist staring with the above picture which captures John Boehner, even if he isn’t orange enough. I did feel that his green tie did clash with his orange face.

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Poll Shows More Voters Seeing Through Claims That Both Parties Equally Responsible For Gridlock

The mainstream media often promotes a false narrative that both sides of the political spectrum are mirror images of each other, each equally extreme and each being equally responsible for gridlock in Washington. Some centrists such as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have shown that the real problem today is the extremism of the Republican Party. While the media has failed to drop their narrative, most likely due to a false belief that this is how to be unbiased, a Pew Research Center survey shows the public is starting to see through this:

By a margin of 52% to 27%, the public says Democrats are more willing than Republicans to work with political leaders from the other party. A 54% majority also says the Republican Party is more extreme in its positions, compared with 35% of Democrats.

By a 20-point margin, the public sees Democrats (52%) as being more concerned than Republicans (32%) with the needs of people like themselves, while a plurality says Republicans are more influenced by lobbyists and special interests (47% vs. 30% saying Democrats). In addition, four-in-ten believe the Democratic Party governs in a more honest and ethical way (41%), compared with 31% who choose the Republicans. But about three-in-ten (28%) do not pick either side as having an edge on honesty.

Among other findings, deficit reduction has dropped as a priority. It is not clear if this is because people actually realize how much the deficit has declined under Obama. Not surprisingly, there is a tendency for Democrats to be more concerned about the deficit under Republican presidents and vice versa. It wasn’t long ago, when Bush was in the White House, that the Republican mantra was that “Deficits don’t matter,” to quote Dick Cheney.

While more people are realizing that the Republicans are more extreme and unwilling to compromise or work with the opposition, it is questionable whether these results will translate into gains for Democrats in November. There is plenty in this, and other recent polls, which is more favorable for each party. Historically the overall pessimism and declining popularity of the president would predict a poor outcome for the president’s party in an off year election, and off year elections are also more favorable to Republicans due to decreased turnout by the young and minorities.  The safe bet would be that the Republicans will experience moderate gains, although the Democrats could pick up some House seats.

One recent polling finding does raise questions as to whether the election results will be different this year than expected. Often voters express dissatisfaction about Congress but still approve of their own representative. Plus districts are gerrymandered to keep most members of Congress safe.  Gallup found last week that a record low number feel that their own representative deserves to be reelected. Maybe this could mean an unexpected wave election will occur.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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