About that Gallup poll

The most recent Gallup Daily Tracking polls have Mitt Romney up by 6 or points.  When I saw that I almost had a heart attack!  I mean how can that be when President Obama has a lead in all those individual state polls.  Then last night I read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog post Gallup vs. the World and I calmed down.  I know that Romney supports are probably convinced that Nate manipulates everything so that Obama comes out ahead, but somehow I doubt that and you might want to actually read the post.  Silver begins

The Gallup national tracking poll now shows a very strong lead for Mitt Romney. As of Wednesday, he was ahead by six points among likely voters. Mr. Romney’s advantage grew further, to seven points, when Gallup updated its numbers on Thursday afternoon.

The Gallup poll is accounted for in the forecast model, along with all other state and national surveys.

However, its results are deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case.

Other national polls show a race that is roughly tied on average, while state polls continue to indicate a narrow advantage of about two points for President Obama in tipping-point states like Ohio. The forecast has Mr. Obama as a narrow favorite in the election largely on the basis of the state polls. (You can read my thoughts here on the challenge of reconciling state and national poll data.)

Our database contains records from 136 distinct pollsters that have released at least one state or national survey at some point in this election cycle. Of those, 53 are active enough to have issued at least one survey since Oct. 1.

With so much data to sort through, it will usually be a counterproductive use of one’s time to get overly attached to the results of any one particular poll. Whether you look at the relatively simple averaging methods used by Web sites like Real Clear Politics, or the more involved techniques in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, the Gallup national tracking poll constitutes a relatively small part of the polling landscape.

After a lengthy explanation of how the data is used (I have to say it is long, but readable) Silver says

Over all, the Gallup daily tracking poll accounts for only about 3 percent of the weight [for the FiveThirtyEight calculation] in this stage of the calculation. The national tracking polls collectively, including Gallup, account for only about 10 percent of it. Most of the weight, instead, is given to the state polls.

Silver also recounts the history of the Gallup tracking polls (they have often missed the mark) and concludes

It’s not clear what causes such large swings, although Gallup’s likely voter model may have something to do with it.

Even its registered voter numbers can be volatile, however. In early September of this year, after the Democratic convention, Gallup had Mr. Obama’s lead among registered voters going from seven points to zero points over the course of a week — and then reverting to six points just as quickly. Most other polling firms showed a roughly steady race during this time period.

Because Gallup’s polls usually take large sample sizes, statistical variance alone probably cannot account these sorts of shifts. It seems to be an endemic issue with their methodology.

To be clear, I would not recommend that you literally just disregard the Gallup poll. You should consider it — but consider it in context.

The context is that its most recent results differ substantially from the dozens of other state and national polls about the campaign. It’s much more likely that Gallup is wrong and everyone else is right than the other way around.

Then this afternoon my other favorite wonk, Ezra Klein, also weighed in.

According to Real Clear Politics, Mitt Romney is, on average, up by one point in the polls. According to both Nate Silver and InTrade, President Obama has a better-than-60-percent chance of winning the election. I think it’s fair to say that the election is, for the moment, close.

But not according to Gallup. Their seven-day tracking poll shows Romney up by seven points — yes, seven — with likely voters. But he’s only up by one point with registered voters.

It gets weirder: Dig into the poll, and you’ll find that in the most recent internals they’ve put on their Web site  — which track from 10/9-10/15  — Obama is winning the West (+6), the East (+4), and the Midwest (+4). The only region he’s losing is the South. But he’s losing the South, among likely voters, by 22 points. That’s enough, in Gallup’s poll, for him to be behind in the national vote. But it’s hard to see how that puts him behind in the electoral college.

If Gallup is right, then that looks to me like we’re headed for an electoral college/popular vote split. Last night, I spoke with Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, to ask him if I was missing something. He said I wasn’t. “That’s certainly what it looks like,” he says.

But Newport was cautious in interpreting his numbers. Gallup’s poll cheered Romney supporters because it showed Romney gaining ground even after the second debate. But Newport didn’t see it like that. Remember, he warned, it’s a seven-day poll. “I think we’re still seeing leftover positive support for Romney and I don’t think we’re seeing impact yet from the second debate,” he says.

It turns out the Gallup’s likely voter model includes a measure of enthusiasm which might explain why the large swings and the differences from the other polls.  Nate Silver is right:  it is the likely voter model.  He is probably also right when he said on the Daily Show that we tend to follow polls much too obsessively.  But I can’t help myself.

And if you support Obama you can take comfort in the figures posted late last night on FiveThirtyEight:  Obama 291.6 electoral votes with a 70.6 chance of winning.

Polls and tonight’s debate

Governor Christie of New Jersey thinks Mitt Romney will ace the debate tonight and turn the race upside down.  Let’s see.  Romney has had other game changing opportunities over course of the campaign the biggest being the Republican Convention.  What happened there?  His biographical film wasn’t done during prime time coverage.  Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair and went over his allotted time.  Romney’s speech did not mention Afghanistan or American troops and, overall, was not very inspiring.

Tonight Romney will get another turn at bat.  The polls are still relatively close (more on them in a minute), but can the debate actually move the polls?

Ezra Klein writes in his Wonkbook this morning

Wonkbook’s number of the day: 0. That’s the number of recent elections that we can confidently say were decided by debates.

Gallup, for instance, reviewed their polls going back to 1960 and concluded they “reveal few instances in which the debates may have had a substantive impact on election outcomes.” Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, in “The Timeline of Presidential Elections,” looked at a much broader array of polls and concluded that there was “there is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.” Political scientist John Sides, summarizing a careful study by James Stimson, writes that there’s “little evidence of [debate] game changers in the presidential campaigns between 1960 and 2000.

That’s not to say debates can’t matter, or that these debates won’t matter. The race remains close, and there are examples — 1960, 2000 and 2004, for instance — where  debates made a race more competitive, even if they didn’t clearly change the outcome. Simply closing the gap a bit would be a big win for Mitt Romney, if for no other reason than it would keep Republican donors invested in his chances going into the campaign’s final weeks.

One caveat to keep in mind, though: It’s not necessarily “the debates” that matter. It’s the debates plus the way the debates get spun in the media. There’s good evidence, in  fact, that the media’s spin is actually more important than the debates themselves. For more on that, read this article by Dylan Matthews, which is the best primer you’ll find on what we do and don’t know about what matters in presidential debates. The graphs are great, too

So going into the debate tonight (I’m writing this at about 7:30 am) where do the polls say we are?

Last night Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog posted these numbers for November 6:

Odds of Obama winning:  84.7%

Electoral Votes:  318.6

Popular Vate:  Obama 51.4 to Romney 47.5

Silver wrote

There were nine national polls published on Monday, which are listed in the table below. On average, they showed Mr. Obama with a 3.5 percentage point lead over Mr. Romney.

That’s smaller than the leads we were seeing in national polls last week, which seemed to be concentrated more in the range of a five- or six-point lead for Mr. Obama. It also suggests a smaller lead than recent state-by-state polls seem to imply.

So has the race already shifted back toward Mr. Romney some? Perhaps, but this is less apparent from the trendlines within these polls.

If you compare the nine surveys released on Monday against the last time they were published (in all cases, the comparison poll postdates the Democratic conventions), only four showed a shift toward Mr. Romney. An equal number, four, showed Mr. Obama gaining ground instead, while one poll remained unchanged.

In all cases but one, the shift was extremely modest — within one percentage point in one direction or the other. The exception was a new CNN national poll, which had Mr. Romney closing his deficit from six points to three points.

On average, however, the polls showed only a 0.2 percentage point gain for Mr. Romney — not a meaningful shift in either a statistical or a practical sense.

That is what I had when I went to bed last night.  I woke up to the NPR poll results.  The headline says

On Eve Of First Debate, NPR Poll Shows Romney Within Striking Distance

but the text says

The latest poll by NPR and its bipartisan polling team [pdf] shows President Obama with a 7-point lead among likely voters nationally and a nearly identical lead of 6 points in the dozen battleground states where both campaigns are spending most of their time and money.

However

More than 80 percent of respondents said they planned to watch the first televised clash Wednesday and one in four said the debate could influence their vote.

If you are a Romney supporter that may give you hope.  But remember, Governor Christie, he hasn’t come up to snuff at any big moments yet.  Maybe that means the debate is the time.

But for me, the most interesting thing to emerge from the NPR polling was this question.

On The Economy:

Now, thinking about the nation’s economy, do you believe the economy…

On The Economy

Source: NPR/Democracy Corps/Resurgent Republic

Credit: Padmananda Rama and Alyson Hurt / NPR

Almost half of those surveyed think the economy has bottomed and is starting to improve.  The economy was supposed to be Romney’s issue.

I’ll let Nate Silver have the last word.

But let me leave you with two themes that are at least reasonably well in line with the consensus of the evidence.

First, although it’s unclear whether Mr. Obama’s polls have already begun to decline, it’s more likely than not that they will tighten some between now and the election. The Nov. 6 forecast prices in some tightening while the “now-cast” does not, so sometimes they’ll have a different take on the polls.

Second, you should continue to watch the divergence between state polls and national polls.

As of Monday’s forecast, Mr. Obama was projected to win 22 states totaling 275 electoral votes by a margin of at least 4.7 percentage points — larger than his 4.1 percentage point projection in the national popular vote.

That speaks to a potential Electoral College advantage for him. But it’s important to watch the states that are just on the brink of this threshold, like Nevada and Ohio, or those where the polling has been varied, like New Hampshire.

Without Nevada, for instance, but with the other 21 states, Mr. Obama would be projected to a 269-269 in the Electoral College — which he would probably lose in the House of Representatives.

And his odds there will be a tie:  0.5%.

If you are an Obama voter you can be cautiously optimistic going into the debate tonight.

Fear of polls

It doesn’t matter whether you support Romney or Obama.  When a new poll is released you start to parse it.  Who did the poll?  Are they a Democratic or Republican leaning pollster?  How is it different from the last poll you saw?  What do the pundits say?  Does the result make me happy or anxious? 

This morning RealClear Politics had these numbers:

Average:  Obama +3.2

Electoral College:  Obama 227   Romney 170  (270 needed to win)

Intrade:  Obama  60.4    Romeny 38.2  

Nate Silver, my poll guru, had some advice the other day.  If you are a political junkie, read the whole article, but here are some of the highlights for me.

1. Be patient. Many of the poll-watching habits you learned for the primaries you will need to unlearn for the general election.

In the primaries, it is often worth paying a tremendous amount of attention to how recently a poll was conducted. Because voter opinion shifts rapidly in primaries, a poll that is even two or three days old might have substantially less information value than one that was released today.

That just isn’t true in the general election, when there are fewer swing voters, the candidates are better known, and voter preferences are more rigid. Instead, polls have a much stronger tendency to revert to the mean, and what is perceived to be “momentum” is often just statistical noise. In October, it might be worth sweating just a little bit if there seems to be a two- or three-percentage point shift against your preferred candidate. Right now, it probably isn’t; a poll released on April 20 isn’t going to be much better in the long-run than one released on April 10.

2. Take the poll average. This ought to be obvious, but you should generally be looking for a trend to show up in several different polls from several different polling firms before you start to view it as newsworthy.

5. Pay attention to likely voters versus registered voters. It is worth looking at whether the poll is conducted among registered voters, likely voters or all adults.

In the past eight presidential election cycles or so, the Republican candidate has done a net of about two percentage points better on average in likely voter polls than in registered voter polls.

6. Keep paying attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings. In the early stages of general election campaigns, a president’s approval ratings have often been at least as accurate a guide to his eventual performance as the head-to-head numbers. Thus, for at least the next couple of months, I would pay as much attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings as his head-to-head polls against Mr. Romney.

It is probably slightly better to look at Mr. Obama’s net approval rating — his approval less his disapproval — than the approval rating alone.

11. Read the polls in the context of the news. Polls don’t just shift on their own; they change because people are reacting to changes in their circumstances and to different news events.

Political reporters have beats and deadlines and need to turn stories around every day. But most of the day-to-day squabbles that the campaigns have don’t matter to most voters. If there is a shift in the polls, it is much more likely to be real rather than illusory if it follows something like an Israeli air strike on Iran or a stock market crash than something like this or this.

The other caution is that even when major news events do shift the polls, they sometimes have a half-life with the effects fading over time. These events may produce long-term and permanent effects on how voters see the candidates, but they often overshoot the mark in the close term. Recent examples include the uptrend in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings after the death of Osama bin Laden or the downtrend following the debt ceiling negotiations, both of which persisted for some weeks but then faded.

My conclusion:  This is going to be  close election.  Closer than in my opinion it should be.

 

First results from New Hampshire

As expected, Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary.  The question that remains at 9 pm is what his margin will be.  Right now he has about 37% of the vote with 34% of the vote counted.  Interestingly it is Ron Paul, who will not be the Republican nominee, who is second.  Jon Huntsman is third.

Two interesting facts I ran across today.

First, Glenn Kessler the Washington Post fact checker on Mitt Romney’s job creation record gave his claim of 100,000 jobs three out of four Pinocchio’s.

By all accounts, Romney was a highly successful venture capitalist. While running Bain Capital, he helped pick some real winners, earning his investors substantial returns. High finance is a difficult subject to convey in a sound bite, so Romney evidently has chosen to focus on job creation. 

This is a mistake, because it overstates the purposes of Bain’s investments and has now led Romney into a factually challenging cul-de-sac.

Romney never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs. Instead, it said: “The objective of the fund is to achieve an annual rate of return on invested capital in excess of the returns generated by conventional investments in the public equity market and the private equity market.”

 Indeed, the prospectus never mentions “jobs,” “job,” or “employees.”

When Romney made a run for the governorship, the Boston Globe reported in 2002 that he had not been involved in the details of many deals toward the end of his Bain experience: “These days, Romney can say he hasn’t inked a deal in many years. Even during the end of his tenure at Bain, from 1994 to 1999, he played the role of CEO and rainmaker rather than delving into the details of buyouts.”

 Interestingly, when Romney ran for the Senate in 1994, his campaign only claimed he had created 10,000 jobs. In one ad, a narrator said: “Mitt Romney has spent his life building more than 20 businesses and helping to create more than 10,000 jobs. So when it comes to creating jobs, he’s not just talk. He’s done it.”

Now, apparently, those 10,000 jobs have increased tenfold, apparently in part because of Bain investments in which Romney had at best a tangential role.

The Pinocchio Test

 Romney certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance. But if he is to continue to make claims about job creation, the Romney campaign needs to provide a real accounting of how many jobs were gained or lost through Bain Capital investments while the firm managed these companies — and while Romney was chief executive. Any jobs counted after either of those data points simply do not pass the laugh test.

Three Pinocchios

 

 

With Gingrich and Perry ready to pounce on Romney in South Carolina, I don’t think it is over.   I think the vetting of Willard is just beginning.

The seond item comes from Nate Silver who is live blogging for the New York Times at 8:57

Turnout in G.O.P. Primary Tracking Well Below 2008 Pace

Although the polls made pretty good predictions of the election outcome tonight, forecasting turnout is harder. So far it looks like rumors of a record Republican turnout in New Hampshire were greatly exaggerated.

With 85 of 301 precincts reporting, 52,191 voters have cast a ballot in the Republican primary so far. That projects to about 185,000 votes statewide, as compared with about 240,000 votes in the Republican primary in 2008.

The drop-off in turnout looks worse for Republicans since a higher fraction of voters – about half this year, compared to 37 percent in 2008 – are independents. That means that turnout among registered Republicans could alone be off by nearly 40 percent from 2008.

More on the campaign tomorrow.

The afternoon before Iowa

Yesterday we were out in South Hadley having our traditional family Japanese New Year brunch when talk turned to the 2012 election season and to Nate Silver’s piece in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.  Some very interesting stuff there.

For example:  Iowa is 91% white (the entire country is 74% white).  You knew that, right?  Did you know there are so few Jewish people, they don’t register as a percentage?  But, except for race and the fact the Jews did not migrate to Iowa, the state is a fairly good mirror.  Oh, except for turnout.  Iowa wins 67 to 57.   Iowa and New Hampshire have each picked 10 of the eventual nominees.  Iowa does better with Democrats picking 6 while NH has picked 5 from each party.  They have each picked the President correctly 3 times with Iowa having the most recent pick, President Obama.  The track record is not particularly spectacular, but all the candidates  are flocking there and political junkies are watching polls eagerly.

John Nichols writes in the Nation that the Republican candidates and their PACs will have spent upwards of $200 per vote when you count only television advertising.  Kinda of nuts.

Seriously? All this for an glorified straw poll?

That’s the problem with the caucus system, which operates on an only slightly better model on the Democratic side.

Huge amounts of money are spent to influence a very small percentage of the electorate—less than 20 percent of Iowans who are likely to vote Republican in November will participate in Tuesday’s caucuses, and most of them will leave after the balloting finishes. An even smaller number of Iowans will begin the process of choosing representatives to county conventions, who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions at which Iowa’s national delegates are actually selected.

As of lunch time today, Real Clear Politics shows  Romney edging out Paul 22.8% to 21.5%.  Romney is not even projected to get as many votes as he did in 2008- 25.2%.  Nate Silver has the race a little closer with Romney edging out Paul 21.8 to 21.  It is all in how you weight the various polls.  Throw in an estimated 41% undecided and Iowa is anyone’s game.  I think it is a measure of the field that Republican’s can’t decide who to support.  Poor Jon Huntsman.  We all agreed yesterday that is the only sensible one in the bunch so he has no chance.  Probably lucky for Obama.

Rosie Moser, an undecided voter thinking of endorsing Michelle Bachmann, listened to former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in Independence, Iowa, on Monday.

(Daniel Acker for The New York Times)

Speaking of the President. he has been organizing in Iowa for more than a year and has more field offices that any of the Republicans.  It is will be interesting to see what the Democratic turn out is tomorrow night for a caucus that is already decided.  The link is to an interesting video on the Obama efforts from the New York Times

I think the polls are all done and we only need to wait for the caucus goers to speak.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama and the State of the Union

At the 41st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston, Melissa Harris-Perry asked us to remember the picture of King with President Lyndon Johnson and to superimpose President Obama on one of the men.  After a brief pause to let us think about it, she said that if we had made King Obama we had picked the wrong person, that Obama was President just as Johnson had been. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

Image via Wikipedia

While, as Harris-Perry pointed out there are a number of parallels that can be drawn between King and Obama.   “Both men are brilliant orators, both had a unique ability to capture the American political imagination … and both endured harsh criticism.”  And I will add, both are Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Using King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, she pointed out

It was a period of backlash,” she said. “We were being told it was all moving too fast.

It is easy to behave as if Martin King was beloved in a bipartisan manner across races and communities — but that is not the reality of Dr. King..

But the primary difference is the King was an activist seeking change from the outside while Obama is the President who has to govern the country as a whole while still trying to move us toward a more progressive society and trying stay above the chaos.

Meanwhile we have the shootings in Arizona, Michelle Bachman giving a Tea Party response to the State of the Union Address (in addition to the Republican resonse), and new Tea Party Republicans pushing the more moderate Republicans in Congress into taking up legislation that I feel certain that Speaker Boehner does not view as in the parties best interest.  We can only hope that the chaos remains in the Republican Party and that incidents like Arizona do not spread.  Maybe the Republicans will lose the Tea Party Republicans to a third party.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Nate Silver posted a response to the recent polls the other day on Fivethirtyeight,

With the Democrats still in control of the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, there is little that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives can do before 2013 to enact legislation. The health care overhaul will not be repealed, and social welfare programs will not be cut — at least, not unless Mr. Obama wants them to be, or until a Republican occupies the White House.

What the Republicans can do now, though, is use their leverage over the budget process. On spending matters, Congress is compelled to act every year merely to maintain the status quo. Sooner or later — perhaps over raising the federal debt ceiling, perhaps over authorizing funds to put Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul into effect — there is likely to be a showdown between the House Republican leaders and the president.

The most recent precedent is a favorable one for Mr. Obama: the 1995 government shutdown. The public largely blamed Republicans for the mess rather than Bill Clinton, whose standing rose as a result; he went on to win re-election the following year.

He goes on the point out the parallels in the polls while remaining cautious about 2012.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating has risen a few points in recent weeks, and is now at roughly 50 percent in the average poll. Mr. Clinton’s approval rating was at 54 percent in November 1995, just before the shutdown began, according to both Gallup and Washington Post surveys.

A Pew poll conducted in October 1995, meanwhile, found that 36 percent of respondents approved of the job that Republican leaders in Congress were doing. The figure right now is the same, according to an AP-GfK poll, or a bit lower at 30 percent, according to Quinnipiac; both surveys were released last week.

Surveys conducted before the 1995 shutdown found that the public largely viewed Mr. Clinton as capable of compromise, but not the Republicans. Similarly, in this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent said they expected the Republicans to be too inflexible in negotiations with President Obama, but only 26 percent said they expected that of Mr. Obama.

We have to remember, however, that President Obama is not Bill Clinton.  While we may have chacterized President Clinton as “the first Black President”, he was still a white man.  His alleged crimes were sexual, not racial.  We have to remember that a segment of the country will never accept Barack Obama as president because of his skin color.

President Obama’s recent moves have been toward the center, toward business, with the hope of creating enough jobs to win re-election.  I understand why he is not pushing more of a social agenda right now.  I think he did that, and did it well during the recent lame duck session.  He needs to put himself and the Democratic Party in a position to keep the Senate and the Presidency and to take back the House.  We need to remember, as Melissa Harris-Perry reminded us that the man in the picture is the President and not the activist.

Dave Barry and the TSA

OK.  I know lots of people will probably post this link, but I couldn’t resist.  I had just come home from work and was in the bedroom getting changed.  I habitually turn on one of the local NPR stations and listen for a few moments.  Tonight, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Dave Barry didn’t pass his x-ray screening (blurry groin) and had to get a pat down.  If you haven’t heard him tell the tale, you are missing funny story.

But the sad thing is that as funny as he makes his experience sound, I think we have gone overboard screening airline passengers.  Yes, I know I wouldn’t say that if I ever found myself on a plane with a person with a bomb, but is all the radiation and the groping worth it?  Are we willing to risk future cancers (especially the airline personnel) and/or humiliation to be safe.  There has to be a better way.

A demonstration of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at JFK International Airport

Even Nate Silver is looking at the issue.

My first experience with the full-body scanners, on a flight back to Kennedy Airport from San Diego last month, was also a negative one. I had assumed that, whatever their other faults, the full-body scanners would at least speed up the process of going through the security line; I supposed I imagined something like this scene from the movie Total Recall, in which passengers literally don’t even have to pause to go through security as their bodies are scanned while they walk toward the departure gate.

Instead, the lines were quite slow — possibly because the machines were coming up with a lot of false positives, myself included. As is my usual practice when passing through airport security, I emptied my pants pockets completely — there wasn’t so much as a stick of gum, a penny, or a taxi receipt in there. But the machine nevertheless insisted that that there was something in the back right-hand pocket of my jeans. When the official from the Transportation Security Administration asked me what I had in my pocket, and I told him that there was absolutely nothing, he then performed a pat-down. I was in a chipper enough mood that I wasn’t inclined to make a scene, but I did ask the T.S.A. official whether it was routine for the machines to see things that weren’t there, to which he declined to respond.

Still, it shifted my overall opinion of the technology from positive to negative. This may be something to keep in mind when reviewing polls on the topic.

Silver points out that while polls show overwhelming support fo the new technology, the number of people who fly and have experienced the new screening is relatively low.

The T.S.A. is fond of citing polls which suggest that about 75 or 80 percent of air travelers approve of the new machines. There are a couple of issues having to do with the timing of these surveys, however. Most of them were conducted in January, immediately after the failed attempt last Christmas day by a Nigerian man, who had concealed explosives in his underwear, to blow up a plane travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit — during which time concern about air travel security would naturally have been quite elevated.

What I think we need to know then, is how those who have actually traveled through an airport that uses the full-body scanners feel about them — particularly if they’re people who fly frequently and are therefore going to bear the burden of any inconvenience, embarrassment, invasion of privacy or health risk brought on by the new technology.

My guess is that a majority of such passengers will still approve of them: Americans are willing to tolerate a great number of things at the airport that they would never stand for in other parts of their lives. (Imagine, for instance, if you had to pass through a metal detector on the way into the shopping mall, or were diverted for 15 minutes through a security checkpoint every time that you wanted to drive on the Interstate.)

I haven’t flown since 9/11.  I’ve never been particularly fond of flying anyway and now it seems there will be a choice between being x-rayed and, as Dave Barry pointed out, having the pictures beamed who knows where or being groped.  I think I’ll drive or stay home for a while.

The Myth of Majority

Nate Silver has posted an interesting chart on fivethirtyeight.com.  He points out that both FDR and LBJ had larger Congressional majorities when they were trying to legislate the New Deal and the Great Society.  And given that they also struggled with Congress, maybe Obama isn’t doing too badly. 

Silver points out

When F.D.R. took over the Presidency in 1933, the Democrats controlled 64 percent of the Senate seats and 73 percent (!) of the House seats, counting independents who were sympathetic to the party. And those numbers only increased over the next couple of midterms — during their peak during 1937-38, the Demorats [sic] actually controlled about 80 percent (!) of the seats in both chambers. Obama, by contrast, came into his term with 59 percent majorities in both chambers. That’s not much to complain about by the standards of recent Presidencies, but is nevertheless a long way from where F.D.R. stood during his first two terms, or for that matter where L.B.J.’s numbers were during the 1965-66 period, when the bulk of the Great Society programs were implemented.

F.D.R. and L.B.J. might have been great cleanup hitters — and you’ll get no argument from me that Obama’s aptitude at shepherding his agenda through Congress has been mixed, at best. But they basically spent the first several years of their Presidencies playing in the Congressional equivalent of Coors Field. Considering how dramatic the impact of the loss of just one Senate seat has been on both the perception and the reality of Obama’s agenda, that needs to be kept in mind when drawing the comparison.

Why hasn’t anyone pointed this out before?  We just all talk about Obama’s majority.

For non baseball fans, Coors Field is the archetype of a  hitter’s ballpark.

The Joe Problem

I started thinking about the Democrats Joe Lieberman problem back when the President (who was really new then and trying to play nice) gave his blessing to allowing Joe, a McCain and other Republicans supporter, back into the Democratic Senate caucus.  They also let him be the Chair of the Homeland Security committee.  So now why is Joe going to vote with the Republicans to let them filibuster the health care bill.  He claims he is opposed to the public option and worried about the deficit.

The other night Rachael Maddow had an interesting piece about Joe and Birch Bayh.  Yesterday, Bayh flipped flopped around, but in the end said he will vote with the Democrats to let Health Care Reform come to the floor of the Senate.  I hope he was scared of the ads that reform supporters would be running showing his wife on the board of directors of Wellpoint and graphs of how much money they made from the insurance companies. 

But Joe is a different problem.  As Nate Silver writes

The reason this is a little scary for Democrats is because the usual things that serve to motivate a Congressman don’t seem to motivate Joe Lieberman.

Would voting to filibuster the Democrats’ health care bill (if it contains a decent public option) endear Lieberman to his constituents? No; Connecticutians favor the public option 64-31.

Would it make his path to re-election easier? No, because it would virtually assure that Lieberman faces a vigorous and well-funded challenge from a credible, capital-D Democrat, and polls show him losing such a match-up badly.

Would it buy him more power in the Senate? No, because Democrats would have every reason to strip him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee.

Is Lieberman’s stance intended to placate the special interests in his state? Perhaps this is part of it — there are a lot of insurance companies in Connecticut — but Lieberman is generally not one of the more sold-out Senators, ranking 75th out of the 100-member chamber in the percentage of his fundraising that comes from corporate PACs.

So what does Harry Reid need to do?  Stroke Joe’s ego more?  Buy him a puppy as Nate Silver suggests?  And how many times does Reid do this?  Back to Nate

The other way that this is damaging to Democrats, of course, is that it may embolden an Evan Bayh or a Blanche Lincoln or a Ben Nelson to adopt Lieberman’s stance. None of these guys want to be the lone Democratic member to filibuster — but it’s much easier to defray individual responsibility on a procedural vote against your party when you have someone else joining you.

But while a Nelson or a Lincoln is liable to have a fairly rational set of concerns — basically, they want to ensure they get re-elected — it’s tough to bargain with people like Lieberman who are a little crazy. In certain ways, he resembles nothing so much as one of those rogue, third-bit Middle Eastern dictators that he’s so often carping about, capable of creating great anxiety with relatively little expenditure of resources, and taking equal pleasure in watching his friends and enemies sweat.

In other word:  Joe Lieberman is not rational and is more than a little nuts.  And he must be feeling great because his, little Joe Lieberman, is standing single handedly in the way of what is looking like an acceptable health care bill.

Health Care: A couple of things to think about

I’m like most Americans:  I have employer paid health care with pretty decent coverage and better than average care.  I belong to a doctor run HMO.  I like my primary care doctor who shares my philosophy that less can be more when it comes to drugs, but she makes sure that I get all the necessary tests amd tracks the results which I can see online.  But the cost of my coverage keeps going up and what I contribute to the cost will be a big part of our next union negotiations.

So this whole debate about reform boils down to two things for me.  First, can care be provided more efficiently and at less cost for everyone.  Two, we need to solve the question of the uninsured because we all pay when they use the emergency room for care. 

I live in Massachusetts and we have made a stab at universal coverage which is now under a great deal of pressure given the fiscal situation for the state.  But one thing I have observed is that without national reform on things like Medicare and Medicaid, states will have trouble balancing coverage with cost.  Somehow we have to control costs and improve quality.  I posted about this in my piece on Health Care as a Subprime Mortgage.

So here are a couple of other things to consider.  Nate Silver  did an analysis of where the largest concentrations of uninsured are living. 

Throughout last year, Gallup included a module on health and well being in their standard tracking surveys. This meant they had tens of thousands of interviews between all 435 Congressional Districts. One of the questions on the well-being module was about whether or not people had health insurance. Eric Nielsen at Gallup was kind enough, a while back, to send me these results broken down by Congressional District.

The median Congressional District has an uninsured population of 14.6 percent, according to Gallup’s data (the average is slightly higher at 15.5 percent). Of the 48 McCainocrat districts, 31 (roughly two-thirds) have an above-median number of uninsured. A complete list follows below (actual Blue Dogs are denoted in … you guessed it … blue):

 

So why are the blue dog Democrats so unwilling to vote for reform? 

 The second thing to consider is the Dennis Kucinich amendment.  Joshua Holland writes on Alternet

No time today for a lengthy analysis of the Tri-Committee health bill. My quick-and-dirty take is this. Those who think the bill is a wonderful progressive victory with a robust public option are wrong, and, on the flip side, the charge that it’s a “bailout for the insurance industry” is totally divorced from what the bill would actually do if passed.

 It is the most progressive, comprehensive and significant health care legislation to come down the pike since Medicare was passed in 1965. If it were enacted as written, it’d go a long way to solving a lot of our problems (but by no means all) and wouldn’t break the bank in the process.

 But it also fails some of the basic criteria that most progressives have long said is a red-line that can’t be crossed. First and foremost, it doesn’t have a public option that can compete with private insurers and result in significant cost savings. 

Enter the Kucinich Amendment,

Obviously, a public insurance plan for which 10 million are eligible to enroll isn’t going to serve as an example of the efficiency that comes with a single-payer type system. And the fact that they designed a pretty good public option for which most of the public will be ineligible to enroll (and that wouldn’t have as much potential for cost savings as one would hope) was enough to make me consider opposing it. Howard Dean told me recently that he thought a bill without a robust public option wasn’t worth passing, and I agree.

 And that’s where Kucinich, a supporter of single-payer, comes in. He’s trying to save the whole promise of this project.

 On Friday, an amendment he authored was added to the House bill that allows states to create their own single-payer systems instead of adopting the federally-run exchange system. The original bill allowed states only to enact their own exchange system — it was a nod to federalism — with the proviso that if a state (think a deep red one in the South) refused to adopt the plan, the feds could step in and set it up.

 The Kucinich amendment is really key. If it were to survive the legislative sausage-making and be enacted into law, the we might expect a progressive state to take advantage of the opportunity and enact a single-payer system in the coming years. And, if those of us who have been pushing such an arrangement are correct, the result will be greater access and better outcomes at a lower price tag for that state’s residents. 

Health care reform is going to cost us, but I think doing nothing will cost more in the long run.  I am looking forward to President Obama’s Wednesday press conference where this will probably be topic A.  Stay ‘tooned.