Archive:

October 2004, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Nannygate?  Or tax avoidance?  Or something else?   When Teresa Heinz (Kerry) refused to release her income tax returns for 2003, people assumed, naturally, that she was hiding something.  Now that she has released two pages of the return, people still assume, naturally, that she is hiding something.  But what?   Newsmax, not always the most reliable source, but not always wrong, either, speculates that it might be failure to pay social security taxes for her staff.
Two calls this week to the Kerry campaign press office asking if Mrs. Heinz has paid Social Security taxes on her domestic staff have so far gone unreturned.

Questions about whether candidates and their spouses are illegally paying domestic help off the books have bedeviled the political campaigns of the rich and famous since 1993, when Clinton attorney general nominee Zoe Baird crashed and burned after her Nannygate predicament was revealed.
And a blogger thinks he has found circumstantial evidence of that in the two pages she did release.  Since I have little knowledge of the tax code, I won't even try to guess about the matter.

The New York Post, also no friend of Kerry, has a whole list of possibilities for what might be concealed in those missing pages.  Should it matter to us?  Yes, there are possible conflicts of interest, and we can not overlook the fact that she has financed her husband's political career, more than once.
Question #5: Why should we care?  First, there is precedent for adequate spousal disclosure.  In 1984, the husband of vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferarro released his tax returns after media pressure.  What's more, Mrs. Kerry has repeatedly tapped into her fortune to finance Senator Kerry's political ambitions.

In 1996, a $1.7 million dollar "loan" helped rescue Kerry's Senate campaign, and earlier this year Kerry took a loan out on the couple's Boston mansion to keep his campaign afloat.
And, of course, many of us wonder about possible hypocrisy.  For example, Kerry and the Democratic party have been attacking businesses that "outsource".  Do the Kerrys have large investments in those companies, those Benedict Arnolds, as Kerry was calling them during the primaries?  Given the size of the fortune, there are many other possibilities.

Finally, as I am sure you have noticed, the media has shown little interest in her tax returns, just as they have shown little interest in his missing military records, or his missing medical records.  Reporters have chosen to repress their natural curiosity on all of these subjects.  Maybe I am too suspicious, but it is hard not to think that partisan bias may be the reason for that lack of curiosity.

(Why did I write "Teresa Heinz (Kerry)".  Because, as I understand it, her legal name is still Teresa Heinz, and she began using "Kerry" only after the campaign began.)
- 10:55 AM, 24 October 2004   [link]


Everyone Else Is Linking to this Guardian column, and for good reason.  Here's the final paragraph:
On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses.  And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all.  The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us.  John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?
(Hinckley, of course, is in a psychiatric hospital.)

Note that the civilized world does not include, according to Charlie Brooker, the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Japan, or the nation of Israel, or the substantial minority in Britain that likes George Bush, in spite of the BBC and the Guardian.

Why this call to assassinate George W. Bush?  Because he overthrew a mass murdering dictator without the advance approval of the UN?  Because he has a plain way of speaking?   Because, like most of the world's population, his religious beliefs affect his conduct?  The anger in this column is so overpowering, it is hard to tell.

On the same day that the Guardian published that column, the Telegraph published this one, with a different message.
It is the critics [of Bush] themselves who are suffering from pseudo-religious certainty and superstition.  Isn't there something self-righteous, slightly crazed, about directing such overwhelming anger at the man whose job it is to pick up the pieces of September 11 on behalf of the free world?
. . .
So who gains if Bush loses?  The Labour Left, of course, and the political power of the European Union, the Guardian readers who have been writing magnificently counterproductive anti-Bush letters to the voters of Clark County, Ohio, and every twerp who says with a trembling lip that Mr Bush and Mr Blair have "blood on their hands"; not to mention every corrupt, undemocratic, "pragmatic" government in the Middle East that longs for a return to stasis.

But some rather more fearsome people gain too, such as the man who said of Americans in a document discovered earlier this year ". . . these are the biggest cowards of the lot, and we ask God to allow us to kill, and detain them, so that we can exchange them with our arrested sheikhs and brothers".  He is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and it is probably he who killed Ken Bigley.  Such men believe they have already changed the government in Spain; they will claim at once that they have done the same in the United States.  They will be right.

And who loses?  Iraqis about to have real elections of their own for the first time, Afghans who have already voted with more than expected success, Iranians trying to assert their own democracy against its clerical corruptions.  And us.
The crazed hatred on the left has lead a once respectable newspaper to publish a column calling for for Bush's assassination.  That's disgusting; it it also more than a little sad.  At one time, most, though not all, on the left favored freedom, even for people with brown skins.   Now their reflexive hatred of Bush leads many of them to, in effect, side with Saddam Hussein and Al Zarqawi.

(There are a few on the American left — Lieberman comes to mind — who argue that Bush's goal is desirable, but that he has not pursued it in the best way.  Sometimes Kerry makes such arguments and I take heart; sometimes he takes material from Michael Moore and I despair.  Having studied his career, I am inclined to think that the latter view is closer to what he really thinks.

You can email the editor of the Guardian, Emily Bell, at: editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk.  You can email the reader's editor, Ian Mayes, at: reader@guardian.co.uk.   I am about to compose a message to them and am trying hard to think of a polite way to put my thoughts on this call for the assassination of an elected leader.  Polite, because, in spite of my anger, I think that will be most effective.)
- 6:55 AM, 24 October 2004
Update:  The Guardian has posted this perfunctory apology.   I didn't find it convincing.
- 5:34 AM, 25 October 2004   [link]


Hawaii Is A Swing State!?  That's what the latest poll shows.
President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are deadlocked among likely voters in Hawai'i, a surprising boost for the Republican president in a state that many Democrats had considered safe for Kerry.

The findings of the Honolulu Advertiser Hawai'i Poll suggest that Hawai'i's four electoral votes are in play with just over a week to go before the election.  Nationally, other opinion polls have found that Bush and Kerry are essentially tied for the popular vote.

The Hawai'i Poll, taken among 600 likely voters statewide between Oct. 13 and Monday, had Bush at 43.3 percent and Kerry at 42.6 percent.  The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
The last Republican to carry the state was Ronald Reagan in 1984.  In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush 56 to 37 percent.  The state has been controlled by Democrats practically forever, and the state legislature still is, by large margins in both houses.  Bush may be getting some help from the Republican governor, Linda Lingle, the first since 1959.  The hostility of many veterans toward Kerry may help Bush here, too, since Hawaii has a proud tradition from World War II of supporting veterans.

There may be a hint here of other gains for Bush, because Hawaii's ethnic composition is so different from the rest of the United States.  The states is about 41 percent Asian (Japanese, Filipino, and Chinese, in that order), 23 percent white, 18 percent mixed, and 9 percent Hawaiian.  if Bush is tied with Kerry in Hawaii, he may be doing well among Asians in other states.

And, going back to the point I discussed yesterday afternoon, in the last two months, Bush, a Republican incumbent, has gained among undecideds in Hawaii.  (And Kerry has seen some supporters switch to undecided.)
- 1:20 PM, 23 October 2004   [link]


Cartoonists Will Love The Kerry Goose Hunt, Too:  Yesterday, I speculated that late night comics would make a joke out of Kerry's goose hunt.  If I had thought a little more, I would have realized that so would cartoonists.  For an example, see yesterday's David Horsey cartoon.   There will be others in the next week, I predict.

(Horsey is the Seattle PI's cartoonist.  He's politically correct and intellectually lazy enough to have been reprimanded with a Pulitzer prize.   In the last few years, I often have felt a little sad when I have looked at his cartoons.   He has real talent and years ago was often very funny, even if you disagreed with him.  Now, most of his cartoons are political hackwork.  It's sad to see so much talent go to waste, though from time to time he shows the old spark.)
- 12:40 PM, 23 October 2004   [link]


Bighorn Blogging:  Here's a picture my brother took while he was on vacation in Colorado.



(I cropped the picture and scrunched it to fit on the screen.)
- 4:07 PM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Need A Laugh As The Campaign Gets Nastier?  The New York Times has some suggestions.
The words come from mouths that don't always fit the faces.  The music is cribbed from American pop songs.  The figures are tiny photographic heads pasted onto cartoon bodies.   The political stance is mix-and-match sadism.

And sometimes the viewer can play along: dress up the figures, make 'em dance, whack 'em or kill 'em.  Yes, it's campaign season. And there's plenty of old-fashioned mudslinging, not only in print and on the airwaves but also in the wild, unregulated cultural landscape of the Web.  It's worth a look.
Well, maybe a nasty laugh, especially for those who don't like Bush.

My favorite is still the even-handed parody song, "This Land Is Your Land", at the jibjab site.  And I'll have to try one of the sites with dancing figures some time.
- 3:35 PM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Do Undecided Voters Break For The Challenger?  I have been seeing and hearing that argument for a long time, but had never seen a statistical analysis supporting it.   The idea seems plausible; voters who know what the incumbent has done but do not support him are more than half way to supporting the challenger.  When I saw this post, which ends with the opposite argument, I asked for evidence, as you can see in the comments.

Orrin Judd referred me to Patrick Caddell, President Carter's pollster.  A little bit of searching found this interview, in which Caddell makes the following argument:
CAVUTO: What do you make of these discrepancies.  Are we making too big a deal out of them?   Were they like that when you were with Carter and watching that?

CADDELL: Well, first of all you've got too many polls, some by people who don't know how to poll, which is always a problem.  The media hire people and they say we'll invest our name with someone and they often don't know what they're doing.  And also we don't know the history very well.  One of the things by the way I'll point out to you, having just listened to you and the Speaker, is that no, the undecideds always break to the incumbent at the end of a Presidential campaign.
Is Caddell right?  First, let's note that he did not make a general argument that undecideds break for the incumbent in all election races, but that they do it in presidential races.

That's just as well, because there is a 1989 study of 155 elections with this striking finding:
In 127 cases out of 155, most or all of the undecideds went for the challenger:*
In 9 of the races they broke evenly; in 19 they went to the incumbent.  And in the exceptional cases, the challenger was often as well known as the incumbent through holding another office.

There's a later study, done by a blogger, with similar results.

But that's not the whole story.  Both of these studies used the last polls before the election.  But that may not be the right way to study the question, since undecideds do not all decide in the last day, the last few days, or even the last week before the election.   And there are reasons for thinking that presidential elections, where attention is so much higher, may not have the same patterns as elections for other offices.

The "Mystery Pollster" tries his hand at the presidential elections, using Gallup's final polls from 1956 on and comes up with this result.
However, the final Gallup projections (sans undecided) show an intriguing pattern: In the presidential elections since 1956 that featured an incumbent, Gallup's final projection of the incumbent's vote exceeded the incumbent's actual vote six of eight times.  The only exceptions were Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, and then by only 0.2% and 0.7% respectively.   On average, Gallup's projection of the incumbent's vote has averaged 1.3 percentage points greater than the actual result.**
If we were to take this data at face value, we would conclude that undecideds break against Democratic incumbents and for Republican incumbents, at least lately.  But we have such a small number of elections and the differences are so small that we could easily be looking at sampling error.

Gerry Daly looks at presidential elections using a different time frame and came to an entirely different conclusion last May:
With only three exceptions, the incumbent party's candidate did at least as well as the challenger with the late breaking vote, and usually did a lot better.  The three exceptions?  Barry Goldwater and Mike Dukakis each made small gains while remaining considerably behind in an impending crushing defeat.  Ronald Reagan proved to be the exception to every rule, winning not only the undecideds but also taking away considerable support from Jimmy Carter during the last weeks of the 1980 election.
Note one great difference between this study and the others discussed so far.  Daly uses polls one month out and the next to the last poll, rather than the last poll.  If you are trying to understand how undecideds make up their minds, Daly's time frame is better; if you are trying to guess the result from final polls, the other studies may be more helpful.   There's another difference, too.  Daly includes as incumbents the candidate of the party holding the White House.  Again there are arguments both ways, though some think that incumbent vice presidents have the disadvantages of incumbency without the advantages.

Since the current polls are about two weeks away from the election, I am inclined to think that Daly's results are the currently best predictor.  The recent surge to Bush in most polls is exactly what Daley's table predicted back in May.  (And what I have been predicting on general grounds.)

And I have to add that Caddell appears to be mostly right to say that undecideds break toward incumbent presidents, if you use Daley's time frame, except, ironically, for the case of Jimmy Carter.  (For shorter time frames, Caddell might be right about that case, too.  Remember that Caddell would have done polling for Carter before the election, probably every day.)  For other races and a shorter time frame, it does seem that undecideds break toward the challenger more often than not.

(*Technical quibble 1: Since pollsters rarely do panel studies, in which the same voters are interviewed many times, it is possible, though exceedingly unlikely, that it was not undecideds, but switchers that changed the result from the pre-election polls.

**Technical quibble 2: Gallup rounded off their poll results to a single digit, except in 1956, so the numbers in the table are not really that precise.  For example, in 1984, Gallup's final projection for Reagan might have been anywhere between 58.5 and 59.5 and the difference between that and the election result anywhere between -.7 and .3.)
- 3:05 PM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Finally, A Journalist Understands what motivates the SwiftVets.
"Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," the highly contested anti-Kerry documentary, should not be shown by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.  It should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television.

This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry's reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state.  But it does help viewers better understand the rage fueling the unhappy band of brothers who oppose Mr. Kerry's candidacy and his claim to heroism.
Nearly all journalists treated the SwiftVets attack on John Kerry as part of 2004 campaign, not understanding that this was the revival of an old quarrel — no matter how many times John O'Neill and company tried to explain that.  That the journalist, Alessandra Stanley, is a TV critic for the New York Times adds a bit of irony, but does not make her piece less welcome, even with bits like "often specious".  And I have to give her credit for telling us where to see the film, if it is not on your local TV before the election.

John Kerry caused these men, and many others who served in Vietnam, or whose loved ones did, great pain.  Finally, a journalist recognizes that.

(In the article, Stanley says that you can see the movie on the internet for $4.99.  I couldn't find a way to do that this morning, and the entrance to the site was inactive.  But you can buy a DVD or VHS copy of the movie at the site, or from from Amazon, if you prefer.)
- 10:08 AM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Even If You Have A Better Tan than I do, it's all right to vote for Republicans.  So says Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun Times.
In two weeks, my 19-year-old daughter will vote for the first time.  As a Pentecostal sister -- and I'm talking about being in Friday night prayer meetings and Sunday night services -- when she walks into the voting booth on Nov. 2, she'll be carrying every sermon she's ever heard.

Even so, I'd be shocked if she voted Republican.  But I would be proud of her if she voted her own conscience rather than followed a dubious tradition.  After all, the Republican Party was the party of Booker T. Washington and Sojourner Truth.
Still is, unless they changed their party posthumously.

Mitchell thinks the largest shift to the Republicans is happening among older, religious blacks.   I think in the long run, though not necessarily in this election, the largest shift will occur among young blacks, especially young black men.

(Mitchell passes on a common mistake.
Jeremy Levitt, a professor of law at DePaul University, said the shift by older African Americans could be a response to what is "arguably a failure of the Democratic Party agenda to uplift the African-American community.

"These are also individuals who actively participated in the civil rights movement and tend to have a higher level of patriotism than the 19- to 25-year-olds.  But these stats are interesting because blacks were in the Republican Party until the 1940s.  This 51-64 category grew up in households where their parents were members of the Republican Party," he said.
The big shift of blacks to the Democratic party began in the early days of the New Deal.   In 1936, FDR won a majority of the black vote.  The Democratic share grew over the following decades, but I believe that, as late as 1960, Richard Nixon won about 20 percent of the black vote.  And exit polls show that Gerald Ford won 16 percent of the black vote in 1976.)
- 9:11 AM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Who Has The Higher IQ, Bush Or Kerry?  Probably Bush, concludes Steve Sailer, who compiles a wide variety of evidence for that conclusion.  We know from his SAT scores that Bush has a IQ of about 125, or perhaps a little higher.  Kerry has not released his SAT scores, but Sailer shows that Bush performed better than Kerry on the tests for officers given to both men.   Since the Air Force and Navy tests are not identical, we can't be sure that Bush has a higher IQ, but that is the most likely conclusion.
So, if you take the average of Bush's percentile scores on the three composites most similar to the test Kerry took, Bush scored at the 67th percentile, a little better than Kerry's 50th percentile.

This isn't an apples to apples comparison, so you can't say that Bush would have done better than Kerry on the same test.  But this doesn't provide any evidence in support of the common assumption that Kerry has a much higher IQ.
In fact, from the evidence that Sailer has collected, most likely Kerry's IQ is somewhere between 115 and 120, just a little below Bush's.

(Sailer repeats another myth, that Kerry works harder than Bush.  If that were true, what would explain Kerry's lackluster Senate career?  The mistake Kerry made the other day, assuming that most Haitians speak French, illustrates my argument.  Kerry had not spent enough time studying Haiti to know that the main language there is Creole, in spite of the many times Haitian issues have come up in the Senate.

Via Mickey Kaus.)
- 6:17 AM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Huntin' For Votes:  Will John Kerry's photo-op hunt yesterday help him any?  It might, although the sneers from the press were nearly unanimous.  Even the New York Times found the hunt a little hard to take.  Their headline is "Kerry on Hunting Photo-Op to Help Image" and the article follows that line.
Clad in camouflage clothing, a 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun under his arm, Senator John Kerry and three fellow hunters emerged from an eastern Ohio cornfield Thursday morning with four dead geese and an image his aides hope will help shore up his macho bona fides among rural voters.
(Remember that, for the New York Times, "macho" is a serious insult.)

Be interesting to see whether the late night comics joke about this staged hunt.  I think they may find it irresistible, even though most support Kerry.
- 5:49 AM, 22 October 2004   [link]


Two Biased Polls:  Yesterday, I mentioned the persistent bias in polls done by the Los Angeles Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  You can see that bias yourself quite easily in the poll data collected by Real Clear Politics this year.  If you look at the polls done in California, you'll see that the most recent result from the LA Times, giving Kerry an 18 point lead in California, is way higher than any other recent polls.  Other polls taken partly or entirely during October give Kerry leads ranging from 6 to 13 percent, with the most recent ones clustered around 9 percent.  If you look at earlier polls, you'll see that the LA Times poll almost always gave Kerry the biggest lead of any poll, during the same time period.  Either all these other pollsters are wrong, or the LA Times is.  I know which way I would bet.

My guess about Kerry's current lead in California?  Probably about 9 percent.  That's what most of the polls show and is consistent with a Bush lead nationally.  Bush lost the state to Gore by 12 points in 2000; if Bush now has a 4-8 point lead nationally, he would, in most cases, be doing better in California, too.

You see a very similar pattern in the polls done in Minnesota by the Star Tribune.  If we look at the polls taken in October, we find that the Star Tribune gives Kerry a larger lead, 5 percent, than all the other polls, except one done by a Democratic pollster, Hart Research.  Some earlier comparisons are even more striking.  There were five presidential polls taken in Minnesota during the middle of September.  One gave Bush a 2 point lead (Mason-Dixon), one found a tie (Gallup), one found a 2 point Kerry lead (ARG), one found a 3 point Kerry lead (Strategic Vision, a Republican firm), and the Star Tribune found a 9 point Kerry lead.  If the final Star Tribune poll gives Kerry a 5 point lead or less, I would bet that Bush would carry the state.

My guess about the race in Minnesota?  Unlike California, the race is too close for me to be sure which candidate is leading.  Right now, I would guesstimate that Kerry has a lead of a single point.
- 2:32 PM, 21 October 2004   [link]


Cross Dressing Cars:  I have been pleased to see, in the last few weeks, some cars with the "wrong" bumper stickers.  Today I saw a Chevrolet Blazer with a Kerry sticker and last weekend I saw a Volvo with both Bush and Rossi (the Republican gubernatorial candidate) bumper stickers.  Until quite recently, the only vehicles from American manufacturers with Kerry stickers that I had seen also had union stickers.  Maybe we aren't quite as divided as many think.
- 1:52 PM, 21 October 2004   [link]


That Karl Rove Is One Smart Fellow:  But I still can't figure out how he tricked a leftwing British newspaper into doing this.
Dan Harkins, a political activist in the vital swing state of Ohio, was excited when he first heard that the Guardian newspaper was recruiting readers to write to voters in his state in the hopes of giving foreigners a voice in the American election.
. . .
The first letters to be made public all urged Clark County voters to reject Mr Bush.  As he watched the reaction of friends and neighbours, Mr Harkins was delighted.

He is the chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, and his neighbours' reaction was outrage.  "It's hysterical," laughed Mr Harkins, showing off sheaves of incensed e-mails and notes from local voters.
That this would backfire was obvious.  So why did the Guardian organize this campaign?   I can think of two possibilities: the newspaper is run by idiots, or Karl Rove tricked them into this mistake.  Since the Guardian newspaper is the favorite newspaper of the BBC, many dons, most literary folk in Britain, many professors in the United States, and other high class folks, we can exclude the first.  All those smart people — and if you don't believe they are smart, they will tell you so — would not read a newspaper that is run by idiots.  So, it must be that "boy genius" Karl Rove tricked them into it.  As smart as they are, he outfoxed them.

(For those who would like to know what was in those letters from Britain, see this article about novelist John Le Carre, who supported the letter writing campaign.  You can see just how appealing those letters must have been.

I am, of course, joking, for the one or two who may not have realized that.  I don't think that the Guardian editors are literally idiots, but I do often find idiotic pieces in the newspaper, especially on American politics.)
- 11:09 AM, 21 October 2004   [link]


How Bad Is Local TV News?  Consider two examples from this morning's broadcasts.  First, while watching KOMO (channel 4), I heard the anchor describe Deborah Senn's opponent as her "running mate".  I am not making that up.   (For those not in this area: Senn is running against Rob McKenna for state attorney general, and the choice couldn't be easier.  Senn was a disaster as state insurance commissioner; McKenna has been a success at everything he has done.)

Second, in 30 minutes of news (between 6:30 and 7:00), King 5 never mentioned the live debate between the candidates for Senate, Patty Murray and George Nethercutt — a debate that the station broadcast last night.  In those 30 minutes, King 5 had time for a sweet potato pie eating contest.  (A woman eating neatly beat a bunch of big guys eating sloppily.)   They had time for a pumpkin launching contest.  (Bush pumpkins went farther than Kerry pumpkins.)  They had time for a scuffle between Prince Harry and a photographer.   (No one was seriously hurt.)  But they did not have time for any coverage of the debate between the candidates for Senate.

King 5 ended the 30 minutes with a Katie Couric commercial urging us to become better informed.  I agree — which is why you should not waste your time watching local television news.

(Some may suspect that King 5 skipped the debate because Murray did so badly.  I must admit that I can't tell you because, though I had intended to watch the debate, I found the Red Sox-Yankees game too interesting to leave.  I'll check the newspaper accounts, even though I don't trust them to tell us if Murray did badly.  I'd be interested to hear from anyone who did see the debate.)
- 7:31 AM, 21 October 2004
More:  According to this account from Stefan Sharkansky, Murray did badly in the debate.  I'll see if I can watch, using the link he provides, and give you a report in the next week.
- 11:03, 22 October 2004   [link]


Just Because It's Pretty:  Here's a picture from earlier today of the slightly remodeled Mt. St. Helens.



You can see the plume of steam coming out of the dome, as it has been doing for days.  The dusting of snow makes the mountain much less forbidding — or at least it makes it look much less forbidding.

(By the way, I cross country skied on the opposite side of the mountain years ago.  Not the best place for cross country skiing, but some of the scenery, such as trees chopped off by the rocks from the main blast, was interesting.)
- 4:14 PM, 20 October 2004   [link]


Which Polls Should You Trust Most?  Or, if you prefer, which polls should you distrust least?  Over the years of analyzing polls, I have come up with some rules of thumb that may help you decide which polls are more likely to be right.

First, some polls associated with news organizations have such bad records that almost no one trusts them.  The Los Angeles Times opposed the recall of Governor Davis — and their poll was very wrong on the recall, badly underestimating the opposition to Davis.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune routinely favors Democrats and liberal causes — and their poll routinely predicts too high votes for Democrats.

The persistence of these errors at polls conducted by news organizations has led me to a second conclusion: In general, I trust polls done by independent polling organizations, such as Gallup and Mason-Dixon, more than I trust polls done by news organizations.  The reason is simple.  The polling organizations have more to lose from biased results than the news organizations do.  If Gallup, for example, is badly off in its election predictions, it will find it harder to sell its polling on other matters.  If news organizations are badly off in their polling, they will get a few nasty letters from people who mostly didn't like them anyway.

I said "in general".  This year, I do not trust the poll results from one well known independent pollster, Zogby.  His brother, who shares his political views, explains why.
This November, I will vote for John Kerry for president of the United States.  I will do so, confident that it is the right thing to do for my country and my community.
. . .
Politics is about building mutually supportive coalitions.  I believe that Arab-Americans are better served by the coalition of peace activists and minority groups that comprise the base of the Democratic Party than they are by the Republican coalition that is driven by the religious right and neo-conservative ideologues.
. . .
I believe our concerns are better met by the party that includes: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Congresspersons like John Conyers, John Dingell, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Jim Moran, Nick Rahall, Maxine Waters, and so many other champions of peace and justice.
And what do those people (except for Clinton) share?  Opposition to Israel and support for Yasser Arafat.  For the Zogbys, the opposite policy of supporting Israel and opposing Arab terrorism, as followed by President Bush, is unforgivable.  And, yes, I do think that feeling has affected the results in Zogby's polls.

Of the independent pollsters, Gallup has the best reputation among academic students of polls.   That does not mean their results are always the most accurate.  It does not even mean that they can not miss badly, as they did in 1996, overestimating the vote for Clinton.  It does mean that, if I had to choose a single poll to guide a bet, I would choose Gallup.

Finally, and you may have reached this conclusion already, I do not think that averaging polls, as so many do, gains you much, even at best.  If you have a good poll, such as Gallup, and you average it with a bad poll, such as Zogby, your result is actually worse than if you had simply used Gallup.

(There are two technical points I should mention.  First, as I have discussed before, Zogby, unlike most pollsters, weights his results to reflect what he thinks is the underlying party balance.  I think that is a mistake, but admit that the question is open.

Second, you might think that you would gain by averaging polls simply because you would have, in effect, a larger sample size.  A large sample size helps, but not as much as you might think.  To reduce the sampling error by half, you need four times as many respondents, not twice as many.  Here's a graph with a brief explanation of the relationship between sample size and sampling error for those who would like to see more.

That relationship explains why few polls contact more than 1,500 respondents, unless the pollsters are interested in the thinking of sub-groups, such as blacks.  By the time you get to 1,000 or 1,500 respondents other sources of error, such as last minute shifts, are likely to be more important than sampling error.

I am, I should tell you, being imprecise here, partly because I have forgotten a lot of my statistical knowledge, partly because I do not find the "frequentist" interpretation of polls satisfying.  That's an apology to those who know more statistics than I do.   The rest may ignore it.)
- 2:34 PM, 20 October 2004   [link]


Do You Miss Jimmy Carter?  I don't, and his return to the public stage to sell his novel keeps reminding me why I don't.  In his interview with Chris Matthews, he made this historical blunder.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the question about—this is going to cause some trouble with people—but as an historian now and studying the Revolutionary War as it was fought out in the South in those last years of the War, insurgency against a powerful British force, do you see any parallels between the fighting that we did on our side and the fighting that is going on in Iraq today?

CARTER: Well, one parallel is that the Revolutionary War, more than any other war up until recently, has been the most bloody war we've fought.
(The novel is set in the Revolutionary War, so Matthews' question isn't completely off the wall.   Although the question is terrible.  And it was the first in the interview, so Matthews could have prepared it in advance.  I don't watch Matthews very often so I don't know if he always this badly prepared.)

Was the Revolutionary War the "most bloody"?  Not even close.  Take a look at these official tables and you will see that the most died during our Civil War if you include non-combat deaths (as you probably should), but that World War II had the largest number of combat deaths.  Was the Revolutionary War even the worst proportionately?  No, if you check the population figures in the first table and do some simple calculations, you will see that the Civil War was by far the bloodiest, proportionately.  That historical fact is not exactly a secret, especially in the South.

(I have no idea what Carter means by "up until recently", so I won't even try to explain that.   Does he really think our recent wars were bloodier than the Civil War and World War II?)

In his interview this morning with a local talk show host, Kirby Wilbur, Carter came up with another amazing statement, that there would be peace in the Middle East if he had been re-elected in 1980.  Anwar Sadat, with some help from Carter, made peace with Israel, and was killed for his efforts.  No similar leaders have appeared in Syria or in Arafat's organization.   Does Carter not know this?

Perhaps the best final word on Carter is found in this story that I found in Bob Dole's book, Great Political Wit.
[W]hen Carter attended a National Prayer Breakfast during his presidency Bishop Fulton J. Sheen brought down the house with his opening remarks.  "Fellow sinners," he intoned, before turning to President Carter and said, "And that includes you, too." (p. 114)
(If you read further in the interview, you will see that Matthews either missed or ignored Carter's historical blunder.  Is Matthews ignorant on this point, too?  Or is he so intent on attacking Bush that he didn't hear the mistake?

After the election, I may tell the story of how Carter won the governorship of Georgia.  For now, I'll just say that his tactics weren't very pleasant, and leave no doubt that he can be included among the sinners.)
- 11:04 AM, 20 October 2004   [link]


John Kerry Spoke French to a group of Haitian voters, which doesn't bother me.   There is some debate about how good his French was.  My own is so poor that I won't even try to judge his, but I am amused by the fact that Kerry apparently does not know that most Haitians do not speak French.
Two languages were spoken in Haiti: Creole and French.  The social relationship between these languages was complex.  Nine of every ten Haitians spoke only Creole, which was the everyday language for the entire population.  About one in ten also spoke French.  And only about one in twenty was fluent in both French and Creole.  Thus, Haiti was neither a francophone country nor a bilingual one.  Rather, two separate speech communities existed: the monolingual majority and the bilingual elite.
. . .
Language usually complicated interactions between members of the elite and the masses.  Haitians of all classes took pride in Creole as a means of expression and as the national tongue.   Nevertheless, many monolingual and bilingual Haitians regarded Creole as a nonlanguage, claiming that "it has no rules."  Thus, the majority of the population did not value their native language and built a mystique around French.  At the same time, almost every bilingual Haitian had ambivalent feelings about using French and did so uncomfortably.  In Creole the phrase "to speak French" means "to be a hypocrite."

Fluency in French served as an even more important criterion than skin color for membership in the Haitian elite.
So, in Haiti, under the old regime, speaking French marked you as a hypocritical aristocrat.

Both Haitian Creole and French are official languages in Haiti, though I don't know in what mix.

That Kerry does not know what language most Haitians speak is rather remarkable, considering how often the Senate has had to consider Haitian issues in his time there.
- 7:38 AM, 20 October 2004   [link]


Black Support For Bush Surges:  In 2000, George Bush received 8 or 9 percent of the black vote, depending on which poll you consult.  In May, I predicted that Bush would receive 12-15 percent of the black vote this November.  Now a poll done for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, gives Bush 18 percent of the black vote.  If this happens, it would be the best performance of any Republican presidential candidate through at least 1976.  Here's how one of our unbiased networks, MSNBC, described that poll result.
But more recent polling reflects a situation in flux.  In a poll released Tuesday, the Joint Center found that Kerry enjoys a 4-1 margin of support among blacks, down slightly from the backing then-Vice President Al Gore received in 2000.
Down slightly?  If Bush had won 18 percent of the black vote in 2000, he would have beaten Al Gore by about 1.5 percent in popular vote, nationally.  He would have won at least one additional state, Wisconsin, and possibly others.  And there would have been no recount in Florida.

By the way, if you did not see the May post, take a look at it.  I can almost guarantee that you will be surprised by some of my conclusions.

(The numbers for the Kerry-Bush face off are 69-18, so 13 percent of black voters are still undecided.  If we allocate them proportionately, a common way to guess what undecided voters will do, Bush would win 20 percent of the black vote in November.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal thinks the Bush gains among blacks explains one Kerry campaign ploy.
Note that the explanation for the shift centers on older black voters and Christian conservatives.  Is anyone still obtuse enough to believe it's mere coincidence that Kedwards have been shouting from the rooftops that Dick Cheney has a homosexual in the family?
Finally, I should add that another poll, done for the Associated Press in September, did not find this same surge.  I continue to think that my 12-15 percent estimate is about right, though the composition may be a little different than I had guessed, with Bush getting more support from older, religious blacks and less from younger black men than I thought in May.)
- 7:06 AM, 20 October 2004   [link]


Seventh Election Prediction:  In March, I made my first formal election prediction, that President Bush would win with 59 percent of the two party vote.  I updated it in April and then again in May, that time lowering it to 58 percent of the two party vote.  In July and August, I left it at 58 percent.  In September, I lowered it to 57 percent, citing uncertainties about the number of Republicans.

As always, I must stress that these predictions are conditional on two assumptions, as I explained in March:
First, my assumptions.  I am going to assume that the consensus among economists is correct and that the next 8 months will show solid economic growth and gains in employment.  I am also going to assume that there will not be anything dramatic like another massive terrorist attack on the United States or a war somewhere that involves the United States.  To some extent these two assumptions balance each other.  If the economy does not perform well, Bush will be hurt; if something dramatic happens, Bush will probably be helped.  (Almost all dramatic foreign events, even disasters like the Bay of Pigs invasion, help the president at least in the short term.)
I think those are reasonable assumptions, but will not quarrel with anyone who says that life is full of surprises.  So far, both have held, but there is a complication with the first assumption, that the economy will do well.

The economy has done well, but voters are less positive about the economy now than they were at the beginning of the year.  You can see the change in the answers to this Gallup question: "How would you rate economic conditions in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?"

Voter Optimism About the Economy, 2004

poll dateexcellentgoodfairpoor
Jan 2-53404116
Jan 12-153344221
Feb 9-122314621
Mar 8-112304424
Apr 5-83314422
May 2-42274327
Jun 3-63324121
Jul 8-115324121
Jul 30-Aug 16323923
Aug 9-113364021
Sep 13-153363922
Oct 9-104314024
Oct 11-142324422


The economy has improved, but the voters think it is worse, which is what matters.  (Why have voters become less positive?  My guess is that it is the result of Democratic campaign and its echoes by their media allies.  Note the sharp drop right after the campaign began in earnest.)

This leads me to drop my estimate of Bush's share of the two party vote from 57 to 55.  I think Bush still has an advantage from the greater propensity of Republicans to vote, as an incumbent, and as a more likeable man, but I no longer think he has an advantage on the issues, or at least not more than a point, net.  Foreign policy, especially the war on terrorism, helps him, as do social issues such as abortion.  The economy hurts him.  (I probably should have recognized this earlier; what it important for these estimates is not how the economy is doing, but how the voters think the economy is doing.)

(As always, let me review some of the other predictions.  There are a whole set of predictions from Ray Fair and others with mathematical models here.  They range from too close to call to a 60 percent vote share for Bush, bracketing my prediction.  None predict a Kerry victory.  They haven't changed because the page hasn't been updated since the end of August.   There is still a mistake in the table.  Fair is now predicting Bush will win 57.48 percent of the two party vote, not 60 percent.

The other predictions are not much changed from the beginning of September.  The Tradesports betters gave Bush a 58 percent chance of winning, when I checked this afternoon, down from from 59.7 at the beginning of September.  (Donald Luskin argues that someone has been manipulating that market, perhaps George Soros, to depress the odds on Bush winning.)   Most other bookies are offering the same odds as Tradesports, as you can see in the charts collected here.

Ron Faucheux of Campaigns and Elections has changed his prediction up and down since my last prediction, and ended up where he was then, giving Bush a 51 percent chance to win.  The options market run by the University of Iowa has improved again for Bush; as of this afternoon, Bush had a 59.4 percent chance to win, up from 55.1 percent at the beginning of September.  (Just to confuse matters, they are now offering separate contracts for close and not so close wins for each candidate.)

There is a whole set of predictions on the electoral college here.   I have not made one yet, but I can say that, if Bush gets 55 percent of the popular vote, he will do better than 311 votes, the maximum prediction in the set.

There is another set of predictions from the readers of the Polipundit site here, 288 in all when I checked this afternoon.  The average prediction is that Bush will win 51.2 percent of the total vote, and Kerry 45.8 percent of the total vote.  That would give Bush about 52.8 percent of the two party vote.

Finally, here's Scott Elliot's current election projection, which is not a prediction but a measurement of where we are currently. His latest puts Bush ahead in both the electoral college and the popular vote, but very narrowly.

I plan to do another prediction a week from now, and one on election day.  If you know of any serious predictions that I have missed, please let me know.)
- 5:24 PM, 19 October 2004   [link]


Burkas Show Progress:  No, really.  In Afghanistan, most of the women wore burkas when they went to the polls in their recent presidential election.   That may seem backward at first glance, but a closer look shows many positive changes.
But looking much more closely at the photos, I see many of signs of change.  My first impression is the gorgeousness of the womens' dress.  I look at the sleeve-work.  The ornate embroidery.  The high quality of the fabrics.  The perfect folding and draping and fitting, the delicacy of the caps.  A few years ago, these women were wearing rags.   Now, instead of looking like mountain hillbillies, they look rather regal in medieval finery.
. . .
"There's a certain prosperity all over, compared to a few years ago," Dr. [Isabel] Coleman said.  Afghanistan's economy has grown about 20% for the past three years, and this is not the underground economy based on opium and contraband smuggling, which is still around, but the true legal economy, she said.  The CIA World Factbook shows 2003 GDP at 29% growth from a very low base, and per capita income up to about $700 since the Taliban was thrown out in 2001.
$700 may not seem like much, but my 2003 Britannica Almanac estimated the 1998 per capita income at $280.

And most of all, we must remember that the Taliban had threatened to kill any woman who voted.   As far as I am concerned, those who defy death threats to vote can wear whatever they want to.
- 9:47 AM, 19 October 2004   [link]


Outsourcing Vote Fraud?  Near the end of a long Washington Post article on campaigning by 527 organizations, there was this interesting bit.
Has the Democratic Party outsourced the job of voter mobilization to a start-up nonprofit group bankrolled by billionaires?  FEC reports indicate the Democratic Party has nearly abandoned certain organizing activities historically central to its mission.  In battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Florida, ACT and allied 527 groups have far more extensive voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives than state and national party groups, according to an analysis of spending in four states for The Post by Dwight L. Morris & Associates.
Using ACT, ACORN, and other such groups for these party activities allows the party to save its own money for advertising.  But there is another advantage that the article does not mention.  If the groups break the law — as they have — the party does not get blamed.  The groups need not worry about a voter backlash to their sleazy tactics, because they will never be on the ballot.

Consider this example.
On Monday, sheriff's deputies arrested Chad Staton, 22, of Defiance [Ohio], who admitted to investigators that he filled out about 130 registration cards, making up the names and addresses.   He said he was hired by a Toledo woman to solicit voter registrations.

She gave him a choice of cash or drugs for his work, Westrick said.  He chose crack cocaine.

Deputies from Defiance County in northwest Ohio and Toledo police searched the woman's Toledo house, confiscating drug paraphernalia and voter registration forms, Westrick said.

The occupant of the house, Georgianne Pitts, 41, told investigators that she was recruited for the voter registration drive by Thaddeus Jackson, Ohio director of the NAACP's National Voter Fund.
(Jackson is also the former chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, by the way.   That's not a small post, since Cuyahoga county includes Cleveland.)

Staton, Pitts, and Jackson were working to help the Democratic party.  But since they are not Democratic officials, the party will escape blame for this scandal.   I believe that some Democratic operatives chose to outsource registration for this reason, as well as the more obvious one.

(As the article also notes, ACT has had such tight coordination with the Democratic party that it is certainly breaking the spirit of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which forbid coordination.  Whether they broke the letter of the law will be determined by the courts after the election.)
- 9:19 AM, 19 October 2004   [link]


ABC's Note obviously thinks that the first point explains the second.
1. By nearly every credible indication available, President Bush seems to have moved, post-debates, into a small but potentially meaningful lead over Senator Kerry.

2. Senator Kerry has begun to make false negative attacks against President Bush a much more central part of his campaign than before, moving toward parity with the president on this front.
Mark Halperin ordered ABC to be tougher on Bush than Kerry.  That makes the admission in the second point, that Kerry has gotten dirtier in the last week, even more significant.  I expect Kerry to get even worse in the next two weeks.   How?  Most likely more scare talk on the draft and social security, and a nasty scare campaign aimed at blacks, who are showing little enthusiasm for Kerry.

(I disagree in part with both points, by the way.  I think Bush's lead is moderate, not small.  And I agree with what Morton Kondracke, a true moderate, has been saying all year.  Neither party has been perfect but the Democrats have been significantly worse than the Republicans in this campaign.

If you read the whole piece, you'll see some silly speculation about why Bush has taken the lead.  I'll have more to say about the real reasons in my election prediction later today.)
- 6:45 AM, 19 October 2004
More:  It's not a surprise to find sharp criticism of Kerry's "false negative attacks" in an editorial at the New York Post, but it is a surprise to see that criticism in an article at the New York Times.
After weeks of facing attacks that his campaign and outside commentators called distortions, Senator John Kerry has begun criticizing President Bush on Social Security and the draft in a manner that reaches far beyond Mr. Bush's positions.

Mr. Kerry may also have exaggerated the president's responsibility for the shortage of flu vaccine.

On Social Security, Mr. Kerry said over the weekend that Mr. Bush planned a "January surprise" that could cost retirees up to 45 percent of their monthly checks.  On the draft, Mr. Kerry told The Des Moines Register last week that there was "the great potential of the draft" if Mr. Bush won a second term.  And on the vaccine, Mr. Kerry has maintained for days that the president ignored warnings of a shortage.
. . .
The truth is that Mr. Bush has promised not to cut the Social Security benefits of current retirees or those nearing retirement age.  He said flatly in the debate on Wednesday that he had no plans to reinstate military conscription.

And as for the vaccine shortage, experts say Congress is as much to blame as the president for allowing domestic manufacturers to stop production.  In his years in the Senate, Mr. Kerry apparently never addressed the matter, either.
It is hard to say which is more disgusting, the attempt to scare the elderly over social security or the attempt to scare the young over the draft.

(Amusing point: Today, in very same issue of the Times, columnist Paul Krugman echoes Kerry's attempt to scare people with the draft.  Somehow, I don't think he'll like this article.)
- 1:59 PM, 19 October 2004   [link]


Another Reason Republicans have been making long term gains.
New 'Primetime Live' Sex Survey Reveals That More Republicans (56%) Are Very Satisfied With Their Sex Lives Than Democrats (47%)
That's the summary, which is supported by the statistics they give as a teaser for the October 21 program.  I am mostly joking, but there is evidence that Republicans tend to have more children than Democrats.  (And I make no claim that becoming a Republican will improve your sex life.)
- 5:24 AM, 19 October 2004   [link]


The 1991 Kerry Vote:  Kerry's career as an anti-war activist is more important to me, in judging his fitness to be president, than his Navy career.  (If we were choosing a commander for a Swift Boat, it would be the other way around.)  Far more important than either of those to me is his career in the Senate.  Much of that career was devoted to anti-anti-Communism, to the criticism of those who were fighting Communism.

It could be that Kerry, though consistently wrong about Communism, was sound on other matters.   If we look back to the 1930s, it is easy to find people who were right about Stalin and wrong about Hitler, and vice versa.  Except that, when it came to one of the most important, and easy test of his understanding of foreign policy, Kerry failed.

The decision to remove Saddam from Kuwait was one of the easiest foreign policy decisions in the last 30 years.  It was a far easier decision than the more recent vote to liberate Iraq, where I could see good arguments for each side.  The 1991 decision was one of those rare occasions in which our interests (because of the oil) and our principles were completely aligned.  Allowing Saddam to take over a neighboring nation would inevitably mean that other dictators would be tempted to do the same.  We could even, if that is important to you, gain popularity in much of the world by rescuing a small nation from a nasty dictator.

I knew that Kerry had gotten that decision wrong and had voted, along with the majority of Senate Democrats, against giving President Bush the authority to enforce the UN resolution and remove Saddam from Kuwait.  I had not realized, until I read this column, just how wrong Kerry had been back then.
Imagine how history would have been different if Kerry had been president then.  Saddam's legions would have remained in Kuwait and perhaps marched into Saudi Arabia.  The world economy could have been held hostage if Saddam controlled the Saudi oil and retained his ability to foster and support terrorism around the world.
. . .
Kerry's preferred course in 1991 for evicting Iraq from Kuwait?

He wanted to give economic sanctions more time, to persuade Saddam that it would be smart for him to leave Kuwait and return the oil and money he had captured with it.

Kerry apparently thought that Saddam was a reasonable guy who would listen to reason, or he decided the cost of stopping a madman was not worth the benefit.

Either way, Kerry made the wrong call.

Kerry convened a hearing to publicize the notion that standing up to Hussein could mean the deaths of 10,000 deaths American troops.  In all, 146 U.S. soldiers were killed in the 1991 Gulf War.
And I am not entirely surprised to learn that Kerry "read passages from an anti-war novel to his Senate colleagues to justify his position".  A pretentious defense of a disastrously wrong policy.  That description fits much of Kerry's career in the Senate.  Sadly, he seems to have learned nothing from his many errors.
- 5:33 PM, 18 October 2004
More:  For those who want more on Kerry's dubious Senate career, read this post from political scientist Dan Drezner.  Drezner is leaning toward a vote for Kerry, but finds Kerry's record a significant obstacle.  He is also worried, though not as much, about likely Kerry appointments.  It would be interesting to know what Drezner thinks about Kerry's long lasting ties to the radical priest, Father Drinan.

(A vote for Kerry might help Drezner get tenure, though the University of Chicago is better on freedom of inquiry than many institutions.  I am sure that has no influence on his decision making.)
- 7:14 AM, 19 October 2004   [link]


Second Round From The SwiftVets:  The SwiftVets have begun running the second round of their attacks on John Kerry, this time attacking him on what I consider a more important part of his career, his time as an anti-war activist.  (As I have said before, we may never know the truth about what Kerry did in Vietnam.  If I knew that everything that he says about what he did in Vietnam is true, it would be a small plus in my evaluation of his fitness to be president.   If I knew that everything the SwiftVets say is true, it would be a little more important, but still just a small minus.)

To my mind, these ads make a much more powerful case against Kerry than the first round.   When a man who was tortured in Vietnam says that Kerry made his time in prison worse, it is hard not to be affected.  When the wives and children of Vietnam veterans make similar arguments, you have to wonder — again — why Kerry has never retracted or softened his statements from that era.  The enormous pain that he gave so many then is obvious; that he has never tried to ease that pain remarkable, both politically and personally.

(Nightline and Ted Koppel show why we need the ads from the SwiftVets.  John O'Neill points out just how extraordinary their behavior has been.
The number of veterans who support John Kerry's accounts of his military service would not fill one Swift Boat.  But instead of sitting down to interview some of the 280 plus members of our Swift Boat organization, ABC News chose to travel to Vietnam taking extraordinary and highly suspect steps to find someone to corroborate John Kerry's story.

ABC News Nightline has now dedicated three separate programs to this one incident while ignoring John Kerry's now discredited Senate testimony that he spent Christmas in Cambodia, his receiving a purple heart after all three of the officers required to approve such an issuance rejected his application, or his constantly changing account of the circumstances surrounding his remaining medal, a bronze star.
The SwiftVets are not the only 527 organization hurting Kerry or helping Bush.  According to this Washington Post article, groups that support Republicans are now "outspending their Democratic counterparts on radio and television by 6 to 1".)
- 8:58 AM, 18 October 2004   [link]


Robert Mak Chickens Out:  On Sunday afternoons, a local TV station, King 5, runs a political program called Upfront With Robert Mak.  Yesterday, the topic was the accuracy of current political ads.  Mak began with the best known (nationally, anyway) of those ads, George Nethercutt's ad showing Senator Murray's incredible statement on Osama bin Laden.  Mak showed the ad, which has drawn vicious criticism from the media in this area, and then did something incredible.  Instead of making a judgment on the ad, he said he would just show us Murray's entire statement and let us decide.

Why did Mak chicken out?  I can think of only one possible answer: He knows that the Nethercutt ad is accurate, but he also knows that it might poison his career to say so, publicly.  He is honest enough not to tell us that the ad is misleading.  But not bold enough to say that the ad is truthful.

What else, I wonder, does Robert Mak know, that he hasn't chosen to tell us?

(The full Murray statement made her look slightly worse, I thought, than the long part shown in Nethercutt's ad.  If you would like to see the ad, you can find it at Nethercutt's site.)
- 8:20 AM, 18 October 2004   [link]


The Competency Gap:  This year, the Republican candidates for statewide offices, at least those I am familiar with, are, with one exception, more competent than their Democratic opponents.  Not necessarily as politicians, but as public officials.  The largest gap may be between the candidates for Washington attorney general, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Deborah Senn.

Both, as candidates for attorney general, have law degrees.  McKenna's is from the University of Chicago, where he was on the law review.  Senn's is from the University of Washington.  McKenna was a member of a prestigious law firm, Perkins Coie; Senn was not.

McKenna served on the King County council (Seattle and most Seattle suburbs) where he was intelligent and effective.  He opposed, for example, (un)Sound Transit's light rail project, rightly predicting that it would be late and over budget.  Deborah Senn was Washington Insurance Commissioner for two terms, and almost destroyed the market for individual health insurance in the state.  Many of her actions as Insurance Commissioner crossed ethical boundaries, and some crossed legal boundaries — not an encouraging history for an attorney general.

Why the competency gap?  The Republican state chairman may have done a better job of recruiting this year, but I don't think that's the entire reason.  The examples of McKenna and Senn suggest some other reasons.  Large groups are now excluded from leadership positions in the Democratic party; a pro-life Catholic, such as McKenna, could never win a primary in the Democratic party, whatever his opinions on other issues.  Republicans do not have as many, or as rigid, ideological tests, and so can draw from a larger group of potential candidates.

Bill Clinton is part of the problem for the Democrats, too.  Presidents set the tone for their parties.  John F. Kennedy inspired many young men to go into politics, some for idealistic reasons, some because they envied his private life, and many for both reasons.   Ronald Reagan inspired many young Republican candidates by his words and by the success of his presidency.  And Bill Clinton?  Who did he inspire?  I am sure that a few were inspired by him, but I am equally sure that many more were turned off.  And, of course, as a practical matter, the 1994 election disaster ended the careers of many of the Democrats who might have followed him.

This talent edge for the Republicans, nationally, and in Washington state, is new.  It reverses the edge that Democrats have had since the New Deal.  If you think I am exaggerating, try to name Democratic governors who might run for the presidency in 2008. Offhand, I can't think of a single one.  (Jennifer Granholm of Michigan would be a possibility if she had not been born in Canada, making her ineligible.)  For the forseeable future, those who want competence will be voting Republican, more often than not.
- 6:46 AM, 18 October 2004
Oops!  I forgot the state's auditor, Democrat Brian Sonntag, who is widely respected, and whose Republican opponent appears to be something of crank.  I've revised the text above.  And I should be more explicit and say that I have not made judgments about the competency of the candidates for lieutenant governor, treasurer, and insurance commissioner, since I don't know enough about them, yet.
- 10:15 AM, 18 October 2004   [link]


Retail Politics:  In early American elections, nearly all campaigns were retail campaigns, conducted in person.  George Washington, for instance, won election to the Virginia House of Burgesses by throwing a party for his neighbors.  (And a fine party it was, judging by the liquor bill.)  With the small constituencies of that time, a candidate could meet all the voters, or enough of them to decide a contest, though it might, in the rural constituencies, require considerable time on a horse.

As our population has grown, we have gotten away from purely retail politics, though less so than you may think.  Candidates still win office in congressional districts by walking around and shaking hands.  In 1996, there was a close race in Washington's 9th district between two men who spent much of their time campaigning from door to door.  The Democrat, Adam Smith, barely defeated the incumbent Republican, Randy Tate.  (I thought then and have thought since that Tate might have survived if he had paid more attention to environmental issues, by the way.)

You even see these retail campaigns, from time to time, in entire states.  For a while, there was something of a fad for walking campaigns, in which a candidate walked through an entire state.  The most successful, though not the first, to use this technique was Lawton Chiles who walked all over Florida to become a US senator.

How much a candidate should use retail politics depends mostly on the size of the district.  At some point it makes sense for a candidates to spend their time raising money for TV and mailings, rather than shaking hands — unless, of course, they can get the TV stations to cover the handshaking.

One of the easiest ways to do retail politics is to go where the voters have gathered for some other reason.  And so I was not surprised to find several candidates when I visited the Salmon Days festival in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah.

(The festival celebrates the return of the salmon.  You can see a few of them returning to their hatchery in the picture below.



By the way, because they come from a hatchery, these salmon haven't been included in counts that determine whether a salmon sub-population is endangered.)

The festival organizers put the two party booths opposite each other.  The signs farther down show the location of the booths, with the Republicans, appropriately, on the right and the Democrats on the left side of the picture.



The Republican candidate for Washington attorney general, Rob McKenna, was campaigning in person and posed, with some of his supporters, for this picture.



Was this the best way for McKenna to spend his time?  Probably.  Since he is not running for a top office, he would not, I would guess, be able to raise much money for the Seattle TV market, or even for the cheaper markets in the state.  Targeted mailings, retail campaigning, and efforts to get the attention of the media are probably the best strategy for him, given the number of voters in Washington (about 2.5 million this November, in my estimate) and the size of the state.

(Lawton Chiles used a nastier technique to retain the Florida governorship in his last campaign.  In 1994, he defeated Jeb Bush with the help of a last minute push poll.)
- 5:55 PM, 17 October 2004   [link]


As I Predicted nearly two years ago, the Seattle Times endorsed Patty Murray for reelection.  I suppose we can be gratified that at least the newspaper did not claim that this dim-witted party hack has grown intellectually.  In fact, if you read the endorsement carefully, you can see that they recognize that Murray is no mental giant, though neither they nor the Associated Press bother to tell readers about her most impressive achievement in the Senate —winning the "not a rocket scientist" award given to the dumbest senator multiple times.

A caller to a local talk show said that he had been on a school board with Murray at the beginning of her political career, and that she wasn't even qualified for that.  But her incompetence, even in a time of war, doesn't matter to the Seattle Times.  As I wrote in January 2003: "She's a woman, a Democrat, and a safe pro-abortion vote."  That's enough for most journalists.

(Nethercutt supporters may want to know that Ron Faucheux of Campaigns and Elections still considers it a close race, making Murray the 4-3 favorite.)
- 7:04 AM, 17 October 2004   [link]


What A President Can't Say:  Lawrence Henry makes an important point; for good diplomatic reasons, a president can not be entirely frank on foreign policy.
But consider President Bush's situation -- the situation of any President in wartime, faced with an ad-lib partisan debate.  There are far more things he can't say than those he can, because the President actually is in the game of world politics.  What he says could fracture alliances, end relationships, start wars.  And some of his best ripostes are barred to him because of that.
He can not, for example, explain frankly why we are developing "bunker buster" bombs, or tell us everything we might be trying to do to undermine the Iranian mullahocracy.  Nor, as tempting as it would be, President Bush can not openly discuss the bribes Saddam gave French politicians.
- 6:34 AM, 17 October 2004   [link]