Robo Calls

I love this story from Farad Manjoo which nicely summarizes political science findings on the most effective ways to win-over voters.  It is quite encouraging to know that the utterly despicable “robocalls” of which Republicans are running many, do not seem to be at all effective.  TPM is actually running a nice site that keeps track of all the sleaze.  Sample script from a call running right here in NC:

“You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with Domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans.  And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington.  Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgement to lead our country.” 

Anyway, here's the skinny on what works and what doesn't:

Political scientists have run dozens of such studies during the past
few years, and the work has led to what you might call the central
tenet of voter mobilization: Personal appeals work better than
impersonal ones. Having campaign volunteers visit voters door-to-door
is the “gold standard” of voter mobilization efforts, Green and Gerber
write. On average, the tactic produces one vote for every 14 people
contacted. The next-most-effective way to reach voters is to have live,
human volunteers call them on the phone to chat: This tactic produces
one new vote for every 38 people contacted. Other efforts are nearly
worthless. Paying human telemarketers to call voters produces one vote
for every 180 people contacted. Sending people nonpartisan
get-out-the-vote mailers will yield one vote per 200 contacts. (A partisan mailer is even less effective.)

Meanwhile, pinning leaflets to doors, sending people e-mail, and running robo-calls produced no discernible effect on the electorate. Green and Gerber cite many robo-call studies,
but the most definitive is a test they ran during the 2006 Republican
primary in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry recorded a call praising a state
Supreme Court candidate as a true conservative. The robo-call was
“microtargeted” to go out only to Perry supporters?people who'd be most
open to his message. But as Green and Gerber show, Perry supporters who
received the call reacted no differently from those who'd been kept off
the list. They were no more likely to vote, nor, if they voted, to vote
for Perry's candidate.

And working in Obama's favor, it appears that an innovation of his campaign, text-messaging, is amazingly cost-effective:

These findings create an obvious difficulty for campaigns: It's
expensive and time-consuming to run the kind of personal mobilization
efforts that science shows work best. Green and Gerber estimate that a
door-canvassing operation costs $16 per hour, with six voters contacted
each hour; if you convince one of every 14 voters you canvass, you're
paying $29 for each new voter. A volunteer phone bank operation will
run you even more?$38 per acquired voter. This is the wondrous thing
about text-messaging: Studies show
that text-based get-out-the-vote appeals win one voter for every 25
people contacted. That's nearly as effective as door-canvassing, but
it's much, much cheaper. Text messages cost about 6 cents per
contact?only $1.50 per new voter.

As for me, I generally like to leave texting for the under 36 crowd (except when I occassionally like to pretend I'm still young).  Not that Obama needs to text me for my vote anyway.

Kay Hagan and the 9th Commandment

During my first viewing, I thought this response from Kay Hagan to Elizabeth Dole's ridiculous new attack ad (yesterday's post) was just pretty good, but I think it ends with one hell of a zinger.  Maybe my favorite ad of the season.

Godless Americans for Kay Hagan!

I've been collecting mail on the NC Senate and Presidential races for a Political Science project I'm working on.  Fun stuff the Republicans are sending out.  Stuff they wouldn't dare put on TV.  My favorite was an Elizabeth Dole flyer about “Godless Americans for Kay Hagan.”  And look, now they have turned it into a TV ad:

Spreading the wealth

Wow.  I'm getting a little tired of all McCain's silliness about Obama's “spread the wealth” comment meaning that he's a socialist and will be the “redistributor in chief.”  We are simply talking about progressive taxation here.  A commonsense notion championed by, among others, that radical socialist, Adam Smith.  My favorite response to McCain comes from Jonathan Chait.  Short version: redistribution is called government.  Longer version:

John McCain today:

“That’s what change means for the Obama administration. They’re
redistributing. It means taking your money and giving it to someone

Need I point out that literally having every any government at all
involves taking somebody's money and giving it to somebody else? Even
the more restrivtive definition of redistribution — using government
to create a less unequal distribution of wealth — has been going on
for a century. If McCain is really opposed to redistribution, then that
means he thinks the rich should get back a dollar in spending for every
dollar they pay in taxes.

And here's Ezra Kleins take:

It's been odd watching the McCain campaign warn darkly against
redistribution. Redistribution — which McCain says “means taking your
money and giving it to someone else” — is what the government does.
It collects taxes and uses them to buy things, or give people money.
Put even more simply, it collects revenues and then distributes them.
As such, I rather like Jon Chait's summary of the McCain campaign's recent message: “McCain: Obama Wants to Have a GOVERNMENT in WASHINGTON!”

My favorite, is this completely nutty Florida news anchor who quite seriously accuses Obama of being a communist in an interview with Biden.  When she quotes Marx to Biden, he quite clearly (and with good reason) thinks the interview most be some sort of joke.

Airport security

Current airport security is a joke that is simply designed to make passengers feel safer without actually doing much to actually make them safer.  Jeffrey Goldberg has a great article in the Atlantic pointing out just how flawed and wasteful the current approach is.  Some highlights:

A no-fly list would be a good idea if it worked; Bruce
Schnei­er's homemade boarding passes were about to prove that it
doesn't. Schnei­er is the TSA's most relentless, and effective, critic;
the TSA director, Kip Hawley, told me he respects Schnei­er's opinions,
though Schnei­er quite clearly makes his life miserable. The whole system is designed to catch stupid terrorists, Schnei­er
told me. A smart terrorist, he says, won't try to bring a knife aboard
a plane, as I had been doing; he'll make his own, in the airplane

Schnei­er and I walked to the security checkpoint. Counter­terrorism
in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better, he said. Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit
doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers. This
assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking,
or target aviation at all. We defend against what the terrorists did
last week, Schnei­er said. He believes that the country would be just
as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11
levels. Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations,
and emergency response.

As it stands, the system is designed to only catch stupid terrorists.  I love this exchange following a description of how to get around ID requirements:

What if you don't know how to steal a credit card?

Then you're a stupid terrorist and the government will catch you, he said.

What if you don't know how to download a PDF of an actual boarding pass and alter it on a home computer?

Then you're a stupid terrorist and the government will catch you.

I couldn't believe that what Schneier was saying was true in the
national debate over the no-fly list, it is seldom, if ever, mentioned
that the no-fly list doesn't work. It's true, he said. The gap blows the whole system out of the water.

Anyway, read the whole thing for the amazing list of items Goldberg smuggles through security, both secretly and openly (e.g., a Hezbollah flag in his luggage).

My fault?

This is fun…

Dumbest headline ever?

From the front of today's Washington Post website:

ANALYSIS | GOP nominee plans to fight on despite poor poll numbers from key states.”

Gee, and I thought he would go ahead and give a concession speech this weekend.

Clearing out the blog backlog

I have just been way too busy this past week… advising, media interviews, grading, state fair, in addition to all the usual demands, so there's lots of great stuff I just haven't blogged.  Each of these, I think, deserves their own full post.  But, rather than just let them disappear forever into the ether, I'll mention each in a bullet point:

  • John McCain has been talking a lot about how Obama wants to “spread the wealth around.”  It's called progressive taxation.  Its sensible.  And Matt Yglesias links to a nice video of John McCain defending it.
  • Newsweek this week makes the claim that we are a Right-leaning nation. Paul Waldman puts the lie to this all-too-common trope.  

Sorry, not to highlight the best parts in a full post, as I like to do, but hopefully you'll find at least some of these worth clicking through to.  I fear that I won't have a lot of time for blog posts till after the election– at which point all my best material will be used up.

Thoughts on Debate #3

I've read a lot of interesting commentary, of which I'd like to mention the best bits.  First, my own semi-original conclusion.  Matt Yglesias points out the fact that the pundits seemed to like John McCain's performance much more so than polls suggest ordinary voters did.  He points out, rightly I think, that McCain's inside baseball talk on things like sugar subsidies plays well to political junkies– of which pundits are, of course, a subset– but is right over the head of most Americans.  More importantly, though, are the visuals– that is body language, facial expression, etc.  In a great political science study that is now twenty years old, Dennis Sullivan and Roger Masters evaluated how voters responded to video clips of politicians with and without sound.  The key finding was that simply the visual cues in faces and body language were the most predictive of the subjects' attitudes.  So, in this case, I think it is pretty safe to say that Obama's calm, reassuring precense brought him the “win” over McCain's twitchy aggressiveness, regardless of what was actually said.  I think Kevin Drum has great related insight on this point:

Conventional pundit wisdom seems to accept that a vigorous attack shows
strength. But that's not true. Think of all the genuinely strong people
you've known in your life. What sets them apart is that they stay calm when other people are attacking.
McCain doesn't seem to get this, and neither do the conservatives who
were insisting that McCain needed to haul out the heavy artillery
tonight. Obama does…

Pundits really like fireworks, and they think sharp attacks show
strength and vitality. But the public, outside of the hardcore base on
both sides, mostly views them as petty and mean.

Truth is, though, there is pretty much nothing McCain could have done last night to truly change the race.  Obama could still do things to lose it, but there's nothing McCain can do to win it.

McCain is not running a bad campaign

One of the major themes of my media class is that political journalists constantly miss and overlook large, contextual factors in order to try and explain polling results, etc., with whatever the latest campaign event is.  Much like the fact that economic journalists always provide some reason the market went up or down instead of just being honest, i.e., day-to-day variations are almost entirely random (recent days withstanding, of course).  Think back, and ask yourself if you have ever heard/seen a losing candidate praised for the quality of their campaign.  Nope.  From the perspective of most political journalists, if a candidate is losing, it must be the inferior campaign.  What we can state pretty confidently from Political Science research, though, is that, for the most part, campaigns only make a difference at the margins. 

Barring some major “game-changing” event in the next couple weeks, John McCain is going to lose this election.  He is going to lose not because he needs a coherent message, has made strategic errors, is too negative, or whatever, he is going to lose because he is the nominee of the incumbent presidential party when that incumbent president has record low approval and an absolutely overwhelming majority of the public thinks the country is on the wrong track.  Throw in the fact that people are far and away most worried about the economy– an issue which tends to generically favor Democrats– and the larger political context is totally against John McCain.  He could very well run the perfect campaign and still lose. 

So, a short-hand for political journalists who get it versus those who don't.  Are they explaining John McCain's huge deficit in the polls by campaign events or the political context.  Of course, few get it any better than Ezra Klein (which is why is one of my two favorite sources for political analysis).  He had a nice Op-Ed this weekend on undecided voters that addressed a lot of this.  Some highlights:

It's a
bit odd that we give the Undecided Voter such a privileged place in
American elections. Because from a civic standpoint, few creatures are
as contemptible. This election has dominated every form of American
news media for the better part of two years. Newspapers, magazines,
networks, cable, radio, blogs, people on street corners with signs —
it's really been rather hard to miss. Further, it pits two extremely
different candidates against each other. Whether your metric is age,
ideology, temperament, race, funding sources, healthcare plans or Iraq
strategies, it would be hard to imagine two men presenting a starker

But despite this, the Undecided Voter wakes up
each morning and says, in effect, “I dunno.” And the political system
panders to him….
In their paper, “Swing Voters? Hah!” political scientists Adam Clymer
and Ken Winneg amassed substantial data suggesting that very few
undecided voters are truly indecisive. Examining the 2004 election,
Clymer and Winneg found that even the most hard-core of undecided
voters were fairly predictable.

They asked the 4% of their
sample that claimed to be undecided to rate the two candidates in early
October. When they went back to the same people after the election,
more than 80% had in fact voted for whichever candidate they'd rated
most highly a month earlier.

But campaigns need something to do in September and October….

And here's the key Political Science point:

Campbell concludes by quoting Paul Lazarsfeld, a political scientist
from the 1940s who argued that campaigns are essentially over before
they have begun. The outcomes are structural — they are decided by
events and party identification and satisfaction with the incumbent and
other predictable indicators. Campaigns, he said, are “like the
chemical bath which develops a photograph. The chemical influence is
necessary to bring out the picture, but only the picture pre-structured
on the plate can come out.”

Acorn: “destroying the fabric of democracy”

John McCain is insane!  Is he serious?  ACORN destroying the fabric of “democracy” ?I won't say much other than to read my recent entry on the subject.  There is no voter fraud!!  There is voter registration fraud, but the difference between that and actual voter fraud is the difference between shoplifting and mass murder.

White working-class men

Great point from Matt Yglesias:

Matt Bai writes about
Barack Obama?s attempts ?to persuade working-class and rural white guys
that he is not the elitist, alien figure they may be inclined to think
he is.?

There?s nothing wrong with looking at that subject, of course. But
it?s curious to me that the press often seems to act as if
working-class (defined as lacking college degrees) white men get triple
votes or something. Slice the population up according to white and
non-white. According to male and female. And according to college and
non-college. Well, white people are more conservative than non-white
people. And male people are more conservative than female people. And
college graduates are less conservative than those who lack college
degrees. Thus, when you look at white men who haven?t graduated from
college, you?re looking at an extremely conservative group of
people relative to the population at large. When you add on additional
adjectives like ?gun-toting? and/or ?churchgoing? you?re looking at an
even more conservative subset of the population. At the end of the day,
it?s inevitable that a Democrat is going to lose this demographic.

It is not like we see a lot of articles about why McCain isn't doing better among urban professionals or among female minorities.  I'm half-tempted to do a Lexis search on the disproportionate focus on this demographic.

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