Free Markets, Free People
Gallup has a new indicator poll out that shows the nation’s national priorities according to its citizens. It’s interesting in many ways, but primarily because one of the highest calls for action is to address “corruption”.
(As an aside, notice the bottom two “priorities).
Notice carefully how the corruption question is phrased – “Reducing corruption in the federal government”. What sort of corruption? Well, one type, that most fair minded people would identify, is that which we call cronyism. As we listen to the uniformed continue to say we’ve been ravaged by the “free market” system, one can only shake their head in wonder that anyone would identify what we have as a “free market system”. Rarely, if ever, are markets allowed to function as they should in this country (or any others for that matter).
What we have is a system of cronyism (I’m removing “capitalist” from the description since there’s nothing “capitalist” about such a system) that is part of what is killing us economically. David Henderson gives us a good description of the system under which we must operate.
What is the difference between free markets and cronyism? In free markets, buyers and sellers are free to agree on price; no government agency restricts who can buy or sell, and no one is told how or what to produce. In contrast, under cronyism the government rigs the market for the benefit of government officials’ cronies. This takes various forms. Governments sometimes grant monopolies to one firm or limit the number of firms that can compete. For example, most U.S. municipalities allow only one cable company to operate in their area even though there is no technological reason more could not exist. The same is true for most other utilities.
Governments sometimes use quotas or tariffs to limit imports with the goal of protecting the wealth and jobs of domestic producers who compete with those imports. President George W. Bush did this in 2002, for example, when he imposed tariffs ranging from 8 to 30 percent on some types of imported steel. Governments sometimes subsidize favored producers, as the Obama administration did with the politically connected solar-energy firm Solyndra. Governments may use antitrust laws to prevent companies from cutting prices so that other, less-efficient companies can prosper: For example, beginning in 1958, the U.S. government prevented Safeway from cutting prices for a quarter of a century.
The entities governments help with special regulations or subsidies are not always businesses; sometimes they are unions. The federal government’s National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) complained against Boeing in April 2011, for example. In response to a complaint from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the NLRB sought to require Boeing to produce its 787 Dreamliner in Washington State rather than in Boeing’s chosen location of South Carolina. According to the NLRB, by saying that “it would remove or had removed work from the [Puget Sound and Portland] Unit because employees had struck” and by threatening that “the Unit would lose additional work in the event of future strikes,” Boeing was making “coercive” statements to its employees. As a matter of fact, it was not. Boeing was simply telling the employees some likely consequences of the union’s actions.
The Boeing-IAM case is not as simple as most of the press implied. It turns out there was a prior case of cronyism. The government of South Carolina promised Boeing “$900 million in tax relief and other incentives” in exchange for moving production to South Carolina. Such is the tangled world of cronyism.
As we discussed on the podcast last night, we have given, or at least allowed government to amass, power to do what it is doing. We have, over the years, allowed them to use tax exemptions and other favors, etc. to lure businesses to our states (and we’re then thankful for the jobs created) not understanding that by doing so, we empower politicians to be the decision makers in areas that should be the function of markets. And what does that foster? A culture that is incentivized to seek out politicians to grant such favors. To ask for, and receive, subsidies. To allow politicians to leverage that power into favoring businesses that fit their political agendas. They become the focus because we have given them the power necessary to grant those favors.
We see the same sort of game played at a national level as described by Henderson. That has nothing to do with capitalism folks. It has nothing at all to do with “free markets”. In fact, it is the antithesis of both.
Probably the most blatant and disturbing example of cronyism came in the auto bailout:
Of course, a much larger instance of cronyism under the Obama administration, one that makes the Solyndra case tiny by comparison, is the bailout of General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. Bush and Obama together diverted $77 billion in TARP funds to GM and Chrysler. In organizing their bailouts and bankruptcies, Obama violated the rights of Chrysler’s creditors and gave a sweetheart deal to the United Auto Workers union.
Law professor Todd Zywicki provides the details:
In the years leading up to the economic crisis, Chrysler had been unable to acquire routine financing and so had been forced to turn to so-called secured debt in order to fund its operations. Secured debt takes first priority in payment; it is also typically preserved during bankruptcy under what is referred to as the “absolute priority” rule— since the lender of secured debt offers a loan to a troubled borrower only because he is guaranteed first repayment when the loan is up. In the Chrysler case, however, creditors who held the company’s secured bonds were steamrolled into accepting 29 cents on the dollar for their loans. Meanwhile, the underfunded pension plans of the United Auto Workers—unsecured creditors, but possessed of better political connections—received more than 40 cents on the dollar.
Pure cronyism. The bankruptcy rules were thrown out by government in order to pay a favored constituency – labor. Henderson explains:
Moreover, in a typical bankruptcy case in which a secured creditor is not paid in full, he is entitled to a “deficiency claim”—the terms of which keep the bankrupt company liable for a portion of the unpaid debt. In both the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies, however, no deficiency claims were awarded to the creditors. Were bankruptcy experts to comb through American history, they would be hard-pressed to identify any bankruptcy case with similar terms.20
Why did the Chrysler bondholders not object? Many did. But, Zywicki notes, the federal government (in this case, the U.S. treasury secretary) had enormous power over financial institutions through TARP, and these institutions owned much of Chrysler’s secured debt.
While this has been going on for quite some time, never has it been as blatant as with this administration. And that blatancy is what has pushed the corruption priority up the list to where it stands second to job creation in this horrific economy.
What can be done to remedy this cronyism “corruption”. Only one thing, and unfortunately, those enjoying the power are where the remedy must come:
There is only one way to end, or at least to reduce, the amount of cronyism, and that is to reduce government power. To reduce cronyism, we must abolish regulations and cut or abolish special government subsidies. That way, there is nothing to fight about. For example, the government should not bail out companies or give special subsidies and low-interest loans to companies like Solyndra that use technologies or produce products that the government favors. It should have unilateral free trade rather than tariffs, import quotas, and other restrictions on imports.
Will it happen? No. Those who tout the power of markets and demand they be given priority are now considered “radicals”. Just listen to President Obama talk about the former administration and try to convince you “we tried their way before and look where it led”. Spinning a regime prior to his that was as wrapped up in cronyism as is his and claiming it represented free markets is standard, disingenuous, leftist boilerplate with nary a leg to be found standing in reality. It is pure, fatuous BS.
The “corruption in the federal government” isn’t lobbyists. They’re a symptom of that corruption. The problem resides under the Capital dome and within the offices of the executive branch. They have the power that is sought by the lobbyists. No power and there would be no petitioners. Instead, we see the number of petitioners for favorable treatment by government (usually at the detriment to their competitors) continuing to expand.
So while the public has finally identified a major problem (thanks to the blatancy of this administration) it has a long way to go before it realizes the means by which it must be fixed. Stripping the federal government of its power to grant favors to its cronies is almost an impossible task, given we have the fox in charge of the hen house.
I see nothing in the future that says those who must fix this are willing to divest themselves of the power to grant favors (see recent farm bill, an orgy of subsidies and pay offs (earmarks), for a perfect example). Show me when they’ve ever divested themselves of any meaningful power they’ve accrued.
And so cronyism will continue and we will continue to circle the drain of economic collapse. Meanwhile, Coke and Pepsi will fight about the marginal nonsense that won’t make a significant difference and make all the usual promises about being the panacea for all our ills that voters have been pining for so long.
Or it is “kick the can down the road” politics as usual.
We’ve talked about it in the past. Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts are best when voter enthusiasm is high. In a per dollar spent ratio, GOTV efforts are most efficient when voters are enthusiastic.
Democrats may have a problem this year according to Gallup:
In fact, Democratic voters are less enthusiastic than they were in 2004. GOP voters, on the other hand, are at the same level as 2004 and much more enthusiastic than in 2008.
That’s not to say overall voter enthusiasm is anything to brag about.
The point of the above chart is that voters recognize that the choices they face are not at all that pleasing. Obviously as in past races, voter enthusiasm will pick up in the next three months. But it seems clear that the politics of this election are not at all compelling to many voters at this point. The reasons are most likely varied. However, what is clear is the GOP base is much more motivated at this point, and by a wide margin, than the Democrat base.
No matter how you slice it or attempt to spin it, that’s not good news for Obama.
With the shooting in Aurora (lived there as a kid), CO, the usual suspects are calling for the usual remedy – stricter gun control.
How does the American public feel about such measures? Rasmussen says that in the wake of the mass shooting in CO, the percentages for and against stricter gun control remain pretty much the same, with an overwhelming majority saying stricter control isn’t a solution.
So, to the politics of the incident – how does one make that message, “we need stricter gun control”, a positive in this campaign (or any campaign?)? They don’t try if they’re smart.
Then there’s another indicator poll. What this one points out, in my opinion, is the fact that if Romney can keep the debate focused on the economy and off the extraneous nonsense the Obama campaign will try to distract the voting public with, he stands a good chance of winning.
Despite concerted Democratic attacks on his business record, Republican challenger Mitt Romney scores a significant advantage over President Obama when it comes to managing the economy, reducing the federal budget deficit and creating jobs, a national USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.
By more than 2-1, 63%-29%, those surveyed say Romney’s background in business, including his tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital, would cause him to make good decisions, not bad ones, in dealing with the nation’s economic problems over the next four years.
The findings raise questions about Obama’s strategy of targeting Bain’s record in outsourcing jobs and hammering Romney for refusing to commit to releasing more than two years of his tax returns. Instead, Americans seem focused on the economy, where disappointment with the fragile recovery and the 8.2% unemployment rate are costing the president.
So, with questions raised about the Obama strategy, what is a incumbent with a bad economic record he doesn’t at all want to visit if he can help it do if his current attacks aren’t having an effect? Throw something else extraneous to the real problem he doesn’t want to talk about out there and see if it sticks to the wall. And count on the media to pitch in and try to help it stick.
That’s how it has worked so far.
I see no reason he’ll alter his tactics.
That said, clearly if Romney can continue to stay on message and get that message out there he has a majority constituency who are with him.
The poll goes on to say that Obama holds a “likeability” advantage over Romney. Yeah, well, unsaid is what 4 years of a high “likeability” index have gotten us. And, as should be clear, most voters don’t like it.
Apparently the voters (likely voters) believe, according to this poll, that the economy is bad and, despite all his finger pointing to the contrary, it’s Obama’s fault:
Two-thirds of likely voters say the weak economy is Washington’s fault, and more blame President Obama than anybody else, according to a new poll for The Hill.
It found that 66 percent believe paltry job growth and slow economic recovery is the result of bad policy. Thirty-four percent say Obama is the most to blame, followed by 23 percent who say Congress is the culprit. Twenty percent point the finger at Wall Street, and 18 percent cite former President George W. Bush.
That’s a pretty significant split between those blamed, with GW Bush down to a low of 18%. And note the reason cited: bad policy.
This is another of those indicator polls. I point them out because they are a temperature check for the moment. But what this particular poll indicates is all of the finger pointing, blame shifting and distraction aren’t working. Voters, and again, I want to emphasize these are likely voters, aren’t or haven’t bought into that nonsense.
If indeed these likely voters actually believe the economy to be suffering from bad policy choices by Obama, it means his chance of winning, with 66% believing he’s the reason we’re suffering economically, are not good.
Again, an indicator – one in a long list of indicators to be considered with all the others.
This one, like many of the others, aren’t at all favorable for the incumbent President.
Much to the Obama campaign and the Time’s chagrin I would suppose. You see, the economics and politics of unemployment are personal, and most of those who find themselves in that position don’t care about Bain Capital or Romney’s tax returns. That’s essentially the message the most recent NYT/CBS News poll reported:
Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney.
Personal situations trump political rhetoric, especially when the political rhetoric has no bearing on that personal situation. Apparently, unlike the media, most of the public still realize what is important. They aren’t caught up in the politics. They want answers to the hard questions … the questions the Obama campaign would just as soon ignore.
Thus the distraction game.
But, apparently, that game isn’t working.
The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.
When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.
Now that’s pretty much dead even with the challenger, despite all the negative ads and stories, having the slight edge.
Frankly, given history, it shouldn’t be this close at this point. Even Jimmy Carter had a lead at this point in his re-election campaign.
The poll is another among many indicators that the Obama presidency is in trouble. Take it for no more than that. It’s a temperature check. A snapshot.
However, when put together with all the other temperature checks, you begin to see a campaign that isn’t at all healthy.
I can’t say I’m shedding too many tears over that. And it also says that the voters are, at least to this point, able to push aside the distractions, focus on the key issues and hold a president accountable that desperately seeks someone (or something) to blame his failure on or an issue to distract from that failure.
I continue to hear the left bravely or blindly asserting that Obama’s fine and will pull off re-election with relative ease. I even hear that on the right from some.
My political gut says no. It’ll be close. No one is really that enamored with Mitt Romney. However, in the end, it will be Romney.
Why do I speak with such apparent certainty? Well, as I’ve mentioned in the past, there are certain types of polls I keep an eye on. They could be characterized as “temperature” polls I guess as in taking the temperature of the nation. Direction of the country is one I like to watch. Here’s another for example:
Two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America — but it’s changed for the worse, according to a sizable majority.
A new poll for The Hill found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.
The results signal broad voter unease with the direction the nation has taken under Obama’s leadership and present a major challenge for the incumbent Democrat as he seeks reelection this fall.
Two points. One the poll is of “likely voters” which is a much stronger and accurate demographic than “registered voters”. Secondly, the 35% of satisfied likely voters pretty much mirrors the percentage of Democrats in the US. What that says to me is independents are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the president.
That’s not good news for the Obama campaign.
Then there is enthusiasm, something we talk about because it is an intangible that is critical to any election. It is critical to any GOTV effort. Those that are more enthusiastic about the election for whatever reason (love their candidate, don’t like the other candidate, etc.) are more likely to make the effort to vote and be receptive to a GOTV effort.
That too seems to be running against Obama:
Independent of voter opinions about how the country has changed, The Hill Poll found an overwhelming majority of voters — 89 percent — view the choice between Obama and Romney as important in terms of the future impact on the country.
Almost half (47 percent) say they are paying more attention to this year’s election than the 2008 vote. Republicans are generally paying more attention than Democrats — 56 percent to 44 percent — to the 2012 campaign compared to 2008.
The Hill, which conducted the poll, wants you to believe that independents, which they also identify as “centrists”, are pretty evenly split over the two candidates. But their 56/35 finding doesn’t support that assertion.
People are not happy with the current situation in the country (with good reason) and for the most part think 4 years is enough time to change it if a president is capable of doing so. It hasn’t happened. In fact, for at least 14.9% of the working population it has gotten worse (as reflected in the U6 unemployment/underemployment number).
That’s a huge number.
What Obama doesn’t have going for him this time is a ground swell of naiveté that bought into the nebulous “hope and change” mantra. He most likely won’t have the youth turnout he had (enthusiasm down badly). He very likely won’t have the squishy Republican vote (the Peggy Noonan vote) he had last time. The “white guilt” vote has, for the most part, been assuaged. A black president was elected and got his chance. Add those in with his loss of the independent or swing voters, and the margins become very thin.
Obviously the swing states, as usual, will determine the outcome. But even in the swing states, the margins are razor thin (with Romney leading in many), and that, again, is not a good sign for an incumbent four months out.
This particular temperature check seems to bolster the political gut feeling (a collection of such temperature checks and other rumblings here and there) that this is an incumbent in deep trouble and probably doesn’t yet know the extent of it.
When emphasis is turned on to his record, my guess is the numbers get worse … for him.
Other than political fodder, of what significance is this poll?
Americans continue to place more blame for the nation’s economic problems on George W. Bush than on Barack Obama, even though Bush left office more than three years ago. The relative economic blame given to Bush versus Obama today is virtually the same as it was last September.
Uh, so what?
Is Bush running for President?
When people enter the voting booth few if any are going to vote based on who they blame for the economic downturn.
Instead they’re much more likely to vote for the candidate they think can best turn it around.
One will have 3+ year record of failure to this point.
The election isn’t about who is to blame. It is about who the voters think can fix it.
As I’ve mentioned any number of times, you have to be careful about what polls you consider as worthy of believing and what polls are likely not particularly accurate. Jay Cost has a great article about that with the added point that the media doesn’t understand what he tells you and so doesn’t understand the races in the various states.
He points to this from the Hill as an example:
President Obama is retaining his commanding lead over Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, topping the Republican presidential nominee by 12 points in a poll released Wednesday by Franklin & Marshall College. Obama would win the favor of 48 percent of Keystone State voters, versus just 36 percent for Romney, according to the poll.
1. The president is under 50 percent in most swing state polling averages. It’s not an ironclad rule that Obama cannot rise in the polls, but common sense suggests that it will be tough. He’s been the president for three years – if you’re not inclined to vote for him now, what will five months of a campaign do?
That’s an important point – if you’re the incumbent and polling under 50%, you’re in trouble regardless of the type voter the poll uses. Also note that the Romney candidacy isn’t even official yet. He would likely see a rise in preference once he is officially the GOP candidate.
Another point I’ll expand on later – favorability. Cost says this:
It’s worth noting as well that most of these polls show the president getting roughly his job approval, which is all we should expect him to receive in the general election (maybe a little less). And his job approval rating has consistently been under 50 percent for two-and-a-half years.
Not good. Not insurmountable, but certainly not an indicator of a strong candidate. More on favorability later.
2. Most polls are of registered voters. This matters because the actual electorate will only be a subset of registered voters, and will probably be more inclined to vote for the GOP. So, these polls probably overstate Obama’s “lead,” such as it is.
With a state like Pennsylvania, using registered voters, you most likely get an oversampling of Democrats. Which side is most likely to be motivated this time? The GOP. So the number quoted in the Hill story is probably considerably lower than claimed (remember Wisconsin? A state carried by 14 points in 2008 is now showing 7 points).
3. There is no “blue wall.” This is a common point pundits will make – the list of states that have not voted Republican since 1988 amounts to a “blue wall” for the president. Nonsense. It’s better to say that these states have Democratic tilts, some of them pretty minimal.
We’ve seen evidence of that in landslide elections. There’s no “red wall” either. It’s all about tilts. Some states tilt more than others but all states, at some point, are in play. Think preference cascade.
The states with a Republican tilt of at least 1 point total up to 253 electoral votes, based on the 2008 results. The states with a Democratic tilt of at least 1 percent total up to 257 electoral votes.
In other words, it’s a wash.
And this is key:
4. The “horse race” metaphor has its limits. Take this from the guy who used to write the Horse Race Blog: The concept of a horse race does not capture the idea of voter psychology very well at this point. Roughly 85 percent or so of the electorate is locked in – though they may not be admitting it to pollsters – while the final 15 percent has barely started the decision-making process. So, the idea that Obama has a “lead” in the polls is really a non sequitur. The gettable voters are not yet engaged, so there really is no race going on at the moment
The fight is for the 15% and they’re not even really paying attention yet. My guess is the 15% probably have a preference, but can be swayed. But for the most part, the majority of the electorate is already engaged (and again, this is one reason WI has national implications).
Finally, favorability. Obama supporters like to point to his favorability rating vs. Romney. That’s pretty much useless as Morris Fiorna explains:
Over all, in the 13 elections between 1952 and 2000, Republican candidates won four of the six in which they had higher personal ratings than the Democrats, while Democratic candidates lost four of the seven elections in which they had higher ratings than the Republicans. Not much evidence of a big likability effect here. In most elections, however, the electorate did not give a large personal edge to either candidate. In four elections they did.
So it is a very mixed bag concerning favorability or likeability. The most pertinent recent example:
Jimmy Carter’s 1980 job approval was flirting with lows established by Harry S. Truman, Nixon and later, George W. Bush, but the electorate rated Carter’s personal qualities as the highest of the Democratic candidates between 1952 and 2000. The same electorate rated Ronald Reagan as the lowest of the Republican candidates. The Ronald Reagan of October 1980 was not the Reagan of “morning again in America” in 1984, let alone the beloved focus of national mourning in 2004. Many Americans saw the 1980 Reagan as uninformed, reckless, and given to gaffes and wild claims. But despite their misgivings about Reagan, and their view that Carter was a peach of a guy personally, voters opted against four more years of Carter.
Fiorna sums it up this way:
“Voters didn’t like my personality” is a loser’s excuse.
As the campaigns progress, we’re likely to hear how Obama’s favorability rating is higher than Romney’s and that such a rating is “significant”. Don’t buy into that. It is likely not that significant at all.
In summary, if the candidate is under 50% in a state in which registered voters are polled, he’s not as strong (or weak) as the polling might indicate. If the poll is of registered voters, take it with a grain of salt. All states are in play and the fight is for the uncommitted 15%.
Favorability? Disregard. It’s about job performance. (That said, here’s POLITICO trying to make something of Obama’s favorability rating).
Hopefully this will help you navigate the worth of the umpteen polls you’ll have thrown your way in the next few months. You should be able to quickly get their measure and then just as quickly figure out if the media has any idea of what it is talking about.
Most likely you’ll find they don’t. But then, that shouldn’t particularly surprise you, should it?
I wonder about the validity of these sorts of numbers:
While rising 14 points since February, Romney still trails the president, who currently has a 56% favorable rating, with 42% saying they hold an unfavorable opinion of Obama. The president’s favorable and unfavorable ratings are unchanged from CNN polls in March and April.
“The biggest gap between Obama and Romney’s favorable ratings is among younger Americans. More than two-thirds of those under 30 have a favorable view of Obama, compared to only four-in-ten who feel that way about Romney. Romney is much stronger among senior citizens, but the gap is not nearly as big," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Romney may have a small advantage among independent voters, but that is offset by his lower favorable rating among Republicans than Obama has among Democrats."
A couple of things – how strong, really, is Obama’s favorable ratings among a demographic scared to death of being called a racist if they happen to have an unfavorable view of our first black president? That’s a legitimate question.
Old folks, for the most part, don’t give a damn about that and may more closely mirror the real feelings out in fly over land.
The reason I say that is Obama’s “favorable ratings” have continued to stay high while his job performance numbers have continued to fall. That seems somewhat unlikely. Usually the two show some movement in the same direction even if one is higher than the other.
Romney is going to grow on Republicans if he continues to attack (i.e. not be the designated place holder for the GOP and refuse to do what is necessary to win as did John McCain), keep the campaign focused on the real issues of the campaign (and Obama’s record) and not fall for the distractions that are sure to be tossed out to the media every week by the Obama campaign. Republicans are eager for someone, anyone, who will carry the political battle to the Democrats.
John Hayward talks about the Glenn Reynolds “preference cascade”, a phenomenon Reynolds notes while talking about the collapse of totalitarian regimes. Hayward describes it here:
A large population can be dominated by a small group only by persuading all dissenters that they stand alone. Most of their fellow citizens are portrayed as loyal to the regime, and everyone around the dissident is a potential informer. A huge dissident population can therefore be suppressed, by making them believe they’re all lonely voices in the wilderness… until the day they begin realizing they are not alone, and most people don’t support the regime. The process by which dissent becomes seen as commonplace, and eventually overwhelming, is the preference cascade.
This analysis doesn’t have to be confined to the study of repressive, dictatorial regimes, or even politics. Consider the phenomenon of celebrity without merit – that is, people who are famous for being famous. Their popularity tends to evaporate in a preference cascade eventually, as people in the audience begin wondering if anyone else is tired of hearing about the ersatz “celebrity,” and soon discover that everyone is.
He then applies it to the politics of this race:
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him
That’s what began happening over the past couple of weeks: a large number of people discovered it’s okay to strongly disapprove of Barack Obama. His popularity has always been buttressed by the conviction – very aggressively pushed by his supporters – that disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him, or at least a greedy tool of the Evil Rich, or a “Tea Party extremist.”
A negative mirror image of this narrative was installed around Mitt Romney, who is supposedly a fat-cat extremist (and, thanks to the insidious War On Mormons, a religious nut) who nobody likes… even though large numbers of people in many different states voted for him in the primaries. Of course he has his critics, and I’m not seeking to dismiss the intensity or sincerity of that criticism… but the idea was to make Romney supporters feel isolated going into the general election, particularly the people who don’t really get involved in primary elections.
Both of those convergent narratives began crumbling this week: Obama is deeply vulnerable, and his campaign has no real answer to criticism of his record – they’ve even tried floating an outright fraud, the now-infamous Rex Nutting charts that presented Obama as some kind of fiscal hawk. (Stop laughing – major media figures took this garbage seriously for a couple of days, and Team Obama did push it.) Major Democrats, beginning with Newark mayor Cory Booker, expressed criticism of the Obama campaign… and the Left reacted with shrieking hysteria and vows of personal destruction for the “traitors.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney effectively presented both substantive criticism of Obama, and a positive agenda. Attacks on his business record that were supposed to destroy him through class-warfare tactics failed to draw blood. The idea that he can win became widely accepted. That doesn’t mean he won the 2012 argument… but unlike Barack Obama, he is offering one.
What is beginning to lose its effectiveness, it’s cache, is, as Hayward notes, " … disapproval of his personal or official conduct is immoral. You’re presumptively “racist” if you disagree with him …”.
But when polled, especially among younger voters, that presumption is still powerful enough I would guess, to see those voters lie to pollsters. It is a sort of social conditioning that has taught them to avoid such a label even at the cost of a lie (and even when speaking to a pollster).
So, and it is merely a guess, but based on a life long study of human nature, there is a distinct possibility that the “Tom Bradley” effect may be pumping up Obama’s popularity numbers.
And, as Hayward points out, as it becomes less and less effective or acceptable to accuse those who do not like Obama of being racists, the possibility of a preference cascade negative to Obama’s favorability is a distinct possibility.
No one who has watched the beginnings of this race can, with any credibility, claim the Obama campaign isn’t struggling. Donors are deserting him, his record is an albatross around his neck, there is strife between his administration and campaign and many of his political supporters seem luke warm at best with any number of Democrats running for reelection in Congress content not to be seen with the man. Too many indicators that point to the probability that the numbers CNN are pushing aren’t quite as solid as they may seem.
Hayward concludes with an important update:
I should add that the most powerful cascades occur when an artificially imposed sense of isolation crumbles. That’s very definitely what is happening here. Widespread popular discontent with the Obama presidency has been suppressed by making the unhappy campers feel marginalized. The failure of that strategy is akin to watching a dam burst under high pressure.
The race, once it gets into high gear, is what will cause the “dam burst” as more and more Americans discover they’re not alone in their feelings about the President and that they are not at all on the margins, but very mainstream.
Once that happens (and it will), when everyone finally realizes they’re not the only one who has noticed the emperor has no clothes, the chances of a one-term Obama presidency increase exponentially.
Call it anecdotal evidence of the survey below and the point made about eroding Democratic support. There are obviously many reasons for that, but let’s look at one of them.
Recently some Republican pollsters hit 11 swing states and organized focus groups composed mostly of Democrats and Independents. What they found support the results of the Pew survey below. The reasons are fairly interesting:
McLaughlin handled blue collar and Catholic voters in Pittsburgh on April 3 and Cleveland on March 20. He found that they are very depressed about the economy and feel that their tax dollars are being sucked up by both the rich and those living on government assistance.
During the focus group discussions about debt and spending cuts, many in his group volunteered criticism of the presidential vacations as something that should be cut. Among the lines McLaughlin wrote down was one from a Democratic woman who said, “Michelle Obama spends $1 million to take the kids to Hawaii,” and another who said, “President Obama was the only president to take so many trips.”
The theme, said McLaughlin, is that the first family “is out of touch” with working class voters.
As has been said, in politics, “perception is reality” and the perception being reported by these focus groups is not one a president who is going to have to rely on populist arguments to hang on to power wants out there.
Now will that be enough to have them drop support for Obama or not turn out to vote? Obviously, we don’t have enough data to determine that. But, what you don’t see here is blind support for him either. The criticism, in this case, works against his populist posturing, however, and that’s not a good thing.
You may be questioning my assertion that Obama is trying build a populist campaign to help him retain power. However, his only other option is to run on and tout his record. And any sane political consultant would likely say, “are you kidding”?
So instead he’s engaged in a populist campaign. Demonizing the rich, Big Oil, student loans, etc. And his demonization of the rich is working, at least in Democratic circles. However, that success is being negated by the perception voiced above:
He added that the president’s attack on the rich and GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s wealth is working, but the voters were also lumping in the president’s vacation spending in with the General Services Administration’s Las Vegas scandal and federal spending for those who aren’t looking for work.
Again, the populist campaign is being blunted by the president’s behavior and the spending scandal(s) surrounding his administration.
Oh, and another indicator to tuck away:
“There really wasn’t a real dislike for Romney. It was just that he is too rich. But on the other hand there is a start of resentment of the government,” he said. “What surprised me is that these were Democrats back biting on their own president,” added McLaughlin.
It doesn’t surprise me. There’s a sense of entitlement with this president and his family that is off-putting. And that is being picked up by potential voters and they don’t like it. They most likely wouldn’t like it in good economic times, but could likely shrug it off. But in bad economic times when they’re suffering, they deeply resent their president blithely ignoring their plight and essentially using his office (and their tax dollars) to indulge himself with something they can’t do.
Some analysts have a tendency to wave things like this off as nonsense. But it isn’t. A vote is made up of a lot of small things driven by their perceptions. When added up, that leads to a decision. Who knows what other perceptions these Democrats have to add to this obvious resentment they hold?
The point, of course, is are they enough to erode their support for Obama? We’ll see. But note, when Republican pollsters get this sort of reaction from blue collar Democrats in focus groups, it’s probably not a isolated feeling among that group.