Browsing the archives for the Debates category.

The ups and downs of the ground game campaigns: “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”

Debates, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US Economy, US Elections, US Politics

Alex Massie featured an encouraging dispatch from a Democratic operative in Ohio last Wednesday: The Ground Game: The View From Ohio. It’s impressive stuff:

I got placed in Bowling Green, right by Bowling Green State University. [..] The county is a swing county, but that is mostly because there are 50,000 rural families and 25,000 Bowling Green residents combined with 25,000 Bowling Green students. [..] No candidate has carried Ohio without carrying Wood County (BG is the county seat). One would think that this historical oddity would almost mandate a heavy McCain presence, but alas there is none to speak of.

I spent a little bit of time at the Obama state HQ in Columbus yesterday. It was jaw dropping. They had taken over an old mega-church. The first floor was a warren of staffers running around all very young and all very busy. The basement was probably the size of a supermarket, lined with table after table. Each table was staffed by four youngsters, all responsible for a different city, county, task etc. It looked like the command center for a massive army. No windows, no natural light, but filled with kids who probably had no idea it was 8am all hovering over computers, maps, data sheets. There were 600 staffers there, all dedicated to Ohio, at 8am. I’m amazed.

Phonebanking for Obama

Volunteers phonebanking in San Francisco (Images used under CC license from Flickr user SanFranAnnie)

In another recent dispatch from the trail, the Denver Post emphasised the mindboggling extent to which the ground games of both campaigns are driven by sophisticated micro-targeting:

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Spread the wealth around!

Debates, Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Economy, US Elections, US Politics

One of the oddest features about Wednesday’s debate was John McCain’s repeated, dismissive references to how Obama wants to “spread the wealth around”. McCain repeated that line no less than nine times, each time derisively, and nine times is a lot in a debate like this. In comparison, he mentioned “education” six times, and “health insurance” three times (which Obama mentioned ten times).

(By the way, if you’re looking for Wordles of the two candidates’ words during the debate, like the ones I made for the second debate, check out these ones that Flickr user spudart made.)

I was actually looking whether there was a YouTube video splicing together all his “spread the wealth around” lines. Because if I knew how to edit videos, I’d make one. I mean, just go to the wonderful NYT interactive election debates tool, type in “spread” in the neat search box above the coloured bars, and use the forward and play buttons to the right to switch between all the references. It’s wonderfully bizarre. (OK, maybe you have to be a geek.)


Wages have stagnated for a decade .. For most folks, spreading the wealth probably seems like a good idea. (Image used under CC license from Flickr user M J M)

The weird thing about these invocations is that, as Noam Scheiber pointed out, he “repeatedly invoked Obama’s line about ‘spreading the wealth around’ without explaining what makes it so offensive (beyond his own menacing tone).” As Scheiber adds, “it didn’t strike me as self-evidently damning.” Right. I mean, God forbid anyone would want to spread the wealth – give other people a shot at it too. As Ezra Klein adds, “Median wages have stagnated for a decade … For most folks, spreading the wealth around probably seems like a good idea.”

McCain got the quote from Obama’s answer to “Joe the Plumber” (who isn’t actually a licensed plumber, doesn’t actually make $250,000 and wouldn’t have to pay higher taxes under Obama’s plan even if he did buy that company), when they met during a campaign stop. It’s worth watching the whole answer Obama gave. There’s nothing particular controversial in his answer as a whole, and the “spreading the wealth” line came in the context of giving people who are where Joe was earlier in his life tax cuts so they would be helped making it too. But as Campaign Diaries points out, the McCain campaign wants you to see the line as “code words for socialism”.

The thing is that McCain didn’t actually bother to make that argument in the debate. He appeared to think that just repeating the line would make people go, “oh yeah, that’s terrible – spreading the wealth around, how can he say such a thing – he must be a socialist”. This equation strikes me as typically one of those things that only works within the bubble. Maybe because for most people, a $250,000 income is so far removed from their world, they can’t even imagine. After all, it’s just the top 3% who earns that much. It’s five times the median household income, and eight times the median individual income.

It is not far removed, however, from the lives of those reporting on politics for us. For network TV reporters, for pundits and politicians, for anchormen and talk show hosts, it’s not that much. They do know people who make that much, because they are often among the top earners in America themselves. So for them, it hits close to home. And because pundits and anchormen hang out with other pundits and anchormen, their view of what is normal is warped – for a striking example see the video below the fold. And this has serious consequences for the opportunities to market liberal economic policies.

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Instant debate polls uniformly positive for Obama

Debates, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Hattip to for the links – see also see their post from the first presidential debate about the methodologies used by these pollsters for the instant debate polls.

CNN poll:

Poll: Debate watchers say Obama wins

CBS poll of uncommitted voters:

CBS Poll: Uncommitted Voters Say Obama Won Final Debate

Democracy Corps focus group:

Undecideds Laughing At, Not With, McCain

See also:

Decisive debate win reinforces momentum for Obama

Media Curves poll:

Debate results for the 3rd 2008 Presidential Debate

Survey USA poll (California):

Heavily Democratic California Again Sees Decisive Obama Win In 3rd Presidential Debate

The Time article on the Democracy Corps focus group conducted by Stan Greenberg neatly illustrates the extent to which these polls show devastating numbers for McCain, far beyond just the question of who won:

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Wordling last night’s debate: John McCain’s answers, and what does it all mean?

Debates, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Earlier today, I wrote “Can we Wordle? Yes, we can!” Wordle being a toy for generating “word clouds” from any given text. I created a Wordle of all of Obama’s answers during last night’s debate. (Again, the hat-tip for the idea goes to The Monkey Cage, which did a Wordle of the Vice-Presidential debate, both candidates in one).

Still using the of same transcript, here’s the Wordle for John McCain’s words:

Click to see large.

So how do the two compare? And what words stand out for prominence – or absence?

Process-wise, what struck me is that Obama spoke slightly more (some 6,720 words) than McCain (about 6,550), and that McCain made more short quips and interjections. The dynamic of frontrunner versus underdog? McCain needed to be on the attack after all, push for some kind of break to revive his chances, while Obama’s main goal must have been to keep ‘er steady and not disrupt his comfortable lead in the polls.

An easily recognizable word in the McCain Wordle is friends – as in, “my friends”, McCain’s catchphrase. Another marked feature of the McCain Wordle is that America, Americans and to a lesser extent American are among the most prominent words. United and States are big too. The American President America is waiting for! In the Obama Wordle, America, American and Americans are all present, but very small.

The prominence of Well, like and look in McCain’s Wordle makes him look curiously like a Valley girl. But he’s also got thank fairly large in there, and Tom (Brokaw). Obama had less time for such niceties and spoke more directly to the audience, over Tom’s head.

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“That One”

Debates, Uncategorized, US Elections, US Politics

Seems to be the big moment from the debate. I’m seeing reference to it everywhere and just saw it on CNN.

It doesn’t seem that horrible to me but is definitely of a piece with the disdain/ condescension takeaway from the first debate (when McCain couldn’t manage to make eye contact with Obama).

Not good for McCain.


Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

Debates, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
John McCain and Barack Obama shake hands to begin debate.

John McCain and Barack Obama shake hands to begin debate.

I don’t have enough thoughts to write up a whole debate review, but I would like to point out two answers from Obama last night that I thought stood out. This is the second debate and the umpteenth time we’ve heard these two speak so there is very little that we have not already heard. That said, I thought Obama’s response about health care was effective. I won’t go in to how the primary candidate who took such heat for not having a mandate in his health care plan now has to answer to charges of forcing people to get health care. His best answer was about deregulation of the insurance industry and allowing insurance companies to sell their products across state lines.

And the reason that it’s a problem to go shopping state by state, you know what insurance companies will do? They will find a state — maybe Arizona, maybe another state — where there are no requirements for you to get cancer screenings, where there are no requirements for you to have to get pre-existing conditions, and they will all set up shop there.

That’s how in banking it works. Everybody goes to Delaware, because they’ve got very — pretty loose laws when it comes to things like credit cards.

And in that situation, what happens is, is that the protections you have, the consumer protections that you need, you’re not going to have available to you.

That is a fundamental difference that I have with Senator McCain. He believes in deregulation in every circumstance. That’s what we’ve been going through for the last eight years. It hasn’t worked, and we need fundamental change.

He gets a little bit muddled in that first paragraph, but his overriding point — that allowing companies to sell their products across state lines without having to comply with the regulations of the state they are selling too will give us the lowest common denominator of consumer protection. It is exactly what happened with the credit card industry, just as he said. The reason I think this was such an effective answer is that this is the first time that I have heard a candidate articulate this problem, and I think Americans are more open than ever to this argument.

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Last night’s debate: Wordling Barack Obama’s answers

Debates, Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Can we Wordle?

Yes, we can!

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Well, here goes: this is the Wordle of all of Obama’s answers during last night’s debate, on the basis of this transcript.

Click to see large.

A hat-tip is in order: I got the idea when I saw the Wordle on The Monkey Cage of the Vice-Presidential debate. That Wordle was of everything both candidates said though, which seemed less revealing to me than what you’d get Wordling each candidate’s words separately.

I’ll do one for McCain later today..


Another Post VP Debate Analysis

Thursdays VP Candidates Debate

Thursday's VP Candidate's Debate

I know, everyone has a detailed post VP debate analysis.  Lots of focus groups out there saying who won or lost, pundits of every stripe analyzing who was folksier and who made contact with the “American Public.”  OK, here’s another one.  My take is slightly different than “who won.”  To conservatives, Palin won going away.  To liberals, Biden was masterful.  The real question for me was did each candidate accomplish the three goals of VP debating: don’t look like an idiot, hammer the other guy’s Presidential candidate while supporting your own and create a few fifteen second sound bites that can play over and over for the next few days.  Let’s break each one of these down.

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Obama: The Safe Candidate *Updated*

Debates, US Elections, US Politics

*Update* Krauthammer sees what I see.

I don’t know if this was part of the plan all along or if John McCain made it happen, but what seems to have happened over the last couple of weeks is that the most damaging talking point against Barack Obama has been rendered impotent. Starting in the primaries and continuing through the summer, the one argument against Obama that was difficult to counter was that he was dangerous. He was unknown, we were told, and couldn’t be trusted. He was untested, and we needed a steady, strong, and experienced hand in the White House. He was a radical — look at his preacher and that guy he served on a board with once whose occupation he can’t even remember. This idea was hard to fight because it wasn’t based on any debatable facts but on impressions, hunches, and intuition. But over the last three weeks, something has changed.

John McCain and Barack Obama debate in Mississippi

John McCain and Barack Obama debate in Mississippi

First, John McCain’s ride into Washington to save the day seems to have had the exact opposite of the intended effect. When I first heard him announce it, I thought it rang false but that many people would buy it. Folks love that, right? He’s a hero and a maverick and he can get things done. His announcement of the suspension contained severe language warning of the dire consequences of inaction. The crisis is so huge that… we must suspend the debates. Maybe that’s when the general public called bullshit. Or maybe it was when he didn’t actually hurry back to Washington at all. It began to look like he was taking a political gamble with a serious public crisis. He was baiting Obama. Would Obama jump on the wagon and implicitly concede that McCain was the leader? And if he didn’t, McCain must have believed, he would also be allowing McCain to own the leader role. But what hapened? Obama didn’t hurry with him to Washington or suspend his campaign or even agree to postpone the debate. He very calmly made the case for not storming Washington. It made sense — neither he nor McCain were on the committees involved in the negotiations, their involvement would inject campaign politics, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Calm, even, and sure. That’s what people saw.

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Has Gwen Ifill been hamstrung? *Updated*

Debates, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

Matt Yglesias thinks so:

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill

If I may state the obvious, the fact that Gwen Ifill apparently has a forthcoming book titled Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama is a huge advantage for Sarah Palin. If you look at the demographic breakdowns of any poll, you could probably count on one hand the number of college educated African-American women who are favorably disposed toward Palin. But because of the book, and because Ifill has a reputation as a professional to maintain, she’s now in a situation where she’ll bend over backwards to avoid appearing too hard on Palin.

I tend to agree. When I chewed my fingernails and worried about how the Biden/ Palin debate would go down, that was one thing that I found reassuring — that the debate would be moderated by a woman. I think that Palin and the McCain campaign are going to look for any excuse to cry “sexism,” and that it will blunt their ability to do so if the follow-ups (which are frequently Palin’s Kryptonite — not that she was so Super in the first place) come from a woman.

That was a big part of why Katie Couric’s interviews created so many jaw-dropping soundbites — Couric would gently, smilingly offer a follow-up, and the follow-up would make it clear that the barn door was flapping but the horses had already bolted. (I either mangled an idiom or coined one there, I’m not sure.)

Note, I don’t think that the book actually indicates that Ifill will be unfair. I just think that

  1. It means that Ifill will have to be considerably more careful than she would have been if this wasn’t made an issue ahead of the debate, and
  2. The book will be used as a bludgeon in the post-debate spin. Even if Biden is impeccable (which is a largish if), McCain people can (and will) go after Ifill as impartial and attempting to embarrass poor, long-suffering Governor Palin

UpdateNate Silver has an interesting point — if Ifill is replaced at the last minute, the bludgeon is removed AND it throws both debaters a curveball.  (They have been preparing with Ifill in mind — watching the 2004 VP debate, etc.)  And who is more likely to deal well with a curveball?

Hey, Katie, are you available??

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My VP debate prediction *Update*

Debates, Politics, US Elections, US Politics

Expecting to see a repeat of the Couric interview on the stage Thursday night? Get used to disappointment. What we will see is Sarah Palin relentlessly attack Biden — about his gaffes, his age, made up stuff, whatever. Do not expect her to even try to answer a question with any depth. She is at her best when delivering snarky lines about her opponents with cutesy lip smacking femininity. Her base will LOVE it. Biden might too.

Thanks to Butryflynet for great information. Not everyone reads comments, so I’m adding them here. You can view one of Sarah Palin’s past debate performances here.

2006 Gubernatorial Debate — Sarah Palin, Tony Knowles and Andrew Halcro

Andrew Halcro reflects on his experiences debating Palin and has some advice for Biden.

“Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I’m amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, ‘Does any of this really matter?’ ” Palin said.

While policy wonks such as Biden might cringe, it seemed to me that Palin was simply vocalizing her strength without realizing it. During the campaign, Palin’s knowledge on public policy issues never matured – because it didn’t have to. Her ability to fill the debate halls with her presence and her gift of the glittering generality made it possible for her to rely on populism instead of policy.