Public Support = Legislative Victory? Not Quite…

by Gene Giannotta

A couple weeks ago, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act by a large margin. Sixty-four senators voted for it, including a number of Republicans. But it’s unlikely to make it through the House - Speaker Boehner has said he won’t bring it to the floor, and even if he did, the GOP majority would seem to be a large stumbling block.

But recent research by the Williams Institute finds that majorities in every House district support the legislation, saying this “confirms that ENDA would pass if all members followed their constituents.”

Over at the Monkey Cage blog, Andrew Gelman points to this as evidence that, if brought to a vote, the bill should pass in the House. He also cites an earlier piece showing that support was very strong in every state, which meant that passage in the Senate should be a sure thing, too. If senators all voted based on the overwhelming levels of public support in their states. After all, the lowest level of support was in Mississippi, and that was 63%!

Alas, Mississippi’s two senators voted “nay,” as did a few dozen others. So popular support among constituents, even very high levels of support, is no guarantee of votes in Congress.

Gelman, however, seems to think that high levels of public support in every district means that representatives will be hard-pressed to vote in any way other than for the bill.

Regarding primary elections: Yes, Republican Congress members have to worry about the attitudes of conservative Republican primary election voters. But that’s not the whole story, as they also try not to go counter to vast majorities of the people in their districts. To put it another way, general attitudes in the district are relevant, and with 70-80 percent support overall, I don’t think primary voters can be as opposed as all that.

Regarding the issue of intensity of support: The suggestion is that voters who oppose gay rights feel more strongly about the issue than voters who support gay rights. It is possible, but I have no particular reason to believe it—if anything, given the nature of the issue, I’d be inclined to believe the opposite, that supporters of gay rights feel more strongly about the issue than do opponents. And you’d need a huge huge difference in intensity to overcome the huge disparities in support that we see from the polls.

I especially want to highlight this: “they also try not to go counter to vast majorities of the people in their districts.” That sounds reasonable, but is not the reality. After all, many senators did just that apparently. And, as the Williams Institute itself points out, “When a similar bill was considered in 2007, 183 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted against it, even though a majority of their constituents supported the policy.”

There are other examples, too. Say, gun control. Large majorities - around 90% - back universal background checks, but that has not helped legislation pass, not even in the wake of a seemingly endless string of mass shootings.

And while Gelman notes that supporters of gay rights are probably quite enthusiastic about achieving policy changes like ENDA, that’s not the real question here. I doubt that even if three-quarters of a particular district supports passing ENDA, three-quarters of that district is ready to mobilize politically to encourage their representatives to vote for it. Perhaps in some cases, but all? No, one can support - even “strongly” support - a particular policy without necessarily being ready to act. And when it comes to effecting political change, what matters is not responses to surveys, but action.

These findings, while interesting and useful in helping us understand attitude trends, don’t really help us understand why particular representatives might act a certain way. There is no conceivable universe in which all 435 representatives vote “aye” for passage of ENDA. The simplest explanation for why is that for many, especially Republicans, there just isn’t any incentive that translates passive support (attitudes reported as favorable) into the possibility of electoral punishment should a given congressperson vote against it.

Hypothetically, a very liberal district and a very conservative district could both see levels of support for passing ENDA in the 70% range, let’s say. But elections don’t occur in policy vacuums. This might place higher in terms of a liberal constituencies’ priorities when judging candidates on Election Day, but even if they support ENDA, it’s doubtful that conservative voters would punish a candidate who otherwise aligns with their preferences on most, if not all, other policy areas just because of this issue.

In Trying To Appease Both Sides, Obama’s Budget Satisfies Neither

By Nick Davis

President Obama released his 2014 budget a few days before Tax Day, albeit about two months late from his required deadline. In an interesting role reversal, Democrats seem to be tearing into the budget more than their GOP counterparts.

Much of the commotion centers on Obama’s proposal to reduce the rate of growth of Social Security payments. He has suggested that payments be calculated using chained CPI, something Republicans have campaigned for in previous budget and fiscal cliff discussions. Chained CPI is a more accurate formula for calculating cost of living expenses and would initially reduce payments by about $2 a month for each person.

Another major point of contention in the President’s budget revolves around $400 billion in Medicare savings over the next 10 years. These cuts would come from pharmaceutical and hospital payments as well as trimming benefits and increasing out-of-pocket expenses for upper income seniors.

Republicans have mixed reactions to Obama’s modest entitlement reforms. Speaker John Boehner praised the reforms. “He does deserve some credit for some incremental entitlement reforms that he has outlined in his budget.” Others were less enthusiastic about the budget. As can be expected, Grover Norquist shot down the bill due to more than a trillion dollars in tax increases while Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon called it a “shocking attack on seniors.”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the President’s budget is the sheer disgust shown by his own party. Democrats have long been the champion of social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid so any reforms to reign in their impact will be unwelcome by the left.  Arshad Hasan, the executive director of the liberal group Democracy For America, seemed to sum up Democratic sentiment best. “You cannot be a good Democrat and cut Social Security.”

Some have expressed concern that if this legislation were to pass, it would leave Democrats vulnerable in the 2014 midterms elections.  Representative Bill Pascrell of New York was one of many Democrats to demonstrate those concerns. "Seniors vote in even heavier numbers, proportionately, in off-year elections," he said. "So just looking at a political standpoint … I would think that this would be a damning blow to our chances of taking back the House next year."

I disagree. I don’t think Pascrell’s concerns are rooted in any sort of fact or logic. If the people are upset about cuts to entitlement programs, what makes them think that Republicans would be any different on the issue? In fact, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the GOP would cut them even more.  At this point, unless the budget actually gets passed without any major overhauls, which seems unlikely, any dissatisfaction with the budget lands on the shoulders of Obama, not his base. Progressive congressman Keith Ellison expressed this same sentiment. "They cannot lay that dead cat at our door," Ellison said Friday. "I don’t know how it’s going to affect the president’s brand, but it would be completely unfair to affect the House Democratic Caucus brand, because we had nothing to do with it and most of us are affirmatively and explicitly against it."

Could we be witnessing a shifting strategy from the President towards negotiations with Republicans? Or, has he been liberated to legislate as he pleases since he can’t be reelected? No matter what his motivations are, one has to wonder what Obama hoped to accomplish by releasing this budget. The President released his two months late and the House and Senate already released their budgets. Depending on how much of Obama’s budget is enacted, the only real thing he has accomplished is alienating his base, something that could and should be avoided as the Republicans are looking to unify themselves for 2016.

CPAC and The Republican ‘Autopsy’ Highlight Why The GOP Just Doesn’t Get It


By Nick Davis

It’s no secret lately that the Republicans have a bit of an identity crisis on their hands. Ever since Barack Obama won a second term as President, the GOP has been doing some soul searching, and rightfully so. After losing five out of the last six popular votes, the Republican Party needs to figure out how to keep from becoming a permanent minority that represents the interests of affluent, older, white men.

Kudos to Reince Preibus and the rest of the RNC for acknowledging that there is a problem. After another GOP loss, Republicans are right to reevaluate their methods and brand. For the last 30 years or so, the general electoral trend has been eight years of one party in power followed by eight of the other with exceptions sprinkled in. If we extrapolate that into the future, that logic would tell us that a Republican would be elected in 2016. But, if there’s one thing I have learned working at Votifi is that correlation does not equal causation.

The GOP is correct in getting ahead of the curve with their Growth & Opportunity Project report. They realize the need to adapt their brand in order to account for a changing demographic, one that is becoming more diverse. Monday, they finally released that report. The 97-page document addresses a multitude of topics, covering everything from how to connect with Latinos and African Americans to bring them into the Party to campaign strategy and fundraising tactics.

In general, the report can be broken down into two broad topics: messaging and strategy.

The findings make some excellent suggestions regarding election strategy. Among those are to reduce the number of debates during the primary season, move up the date of the party convention, and overhaul fundraising practices to rival those of the Democratic Party. These are all good suggestions and probably necessary if the party wants to stay relevant. But strategy only gets you so far if your substance is lacking.  I’ve heard Republican strategist say that you take the Obama out of the Obama for America and no matter how good that campaign was run, he would still lose. I think that’s probably true.

Substance is where this report falls short. The Growth & Opportunity Project, cleverly shortened to GOP, offers absolutely nothing in terms of policy change or specific policy details. Instead, it merely states that the Party must recruit women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and LGBT people to leadership positions and hold outreach programs. The unanswered question remains why would these people want to join your cause if you’re party is constantly championing policies to ridicule and spite them? The fact is, Republicans realize the error of their ways when it comes to procedures, but not when it comes to actual message and policy.

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Budget Sequestration A Real Life Experiment For The President And Congress To See Who’s Right

By Nick Davis

Welcome to day 1 of sequestration. As President Barack Obama so eloquently put it the day after he signed Obamacare into law, “I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling, some cracks opening up in the earth… turned out to be a pretty nice day.” That’s right. Unless you’re a public school official, have a child in primary or secondary school, civilian defense personnel, or live in a military community, you’re unlikely to feel the direct effects of the sequester.

Let me be clear, in no way am I trying to minimize the hardship that these groups face. It’s rather unfortunate that our lawmakers have allowed our children and military to take the brunt of the spending cuts. But, let’s take a moment to really analyze the amount that is being cut here. Of our $3.5 trillion budget, only $85 billion is being cut for this fiscal year, approximately 2% savings according to my own rough math, just a drop in the bucket as I alluded to in my fiscal cliff blog last month.

According to the President and congressional Democrats, this relatively small cut would be catastrophic for the economy. Meanwhile, John Boehner and Republicans want Obama to stop his supposed ‘fear mongering’ and make a concerted effort to make substantive cuts. This political theatre shouldn’t surprise you in the least though. After last week’s weeklong recess, it should be crystal clear that neither side was ever serious about striking a deal.

Obama vacationed in Florida to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. Other than the fake Vacationgate scandal about how transparent his Administration was being in not allowing the press corps to vacation with him, there was not much news from the Obamas. Congressional leaders took the same break to head back to their districts and visit with their constituents.

So, significant budget cuts are looming that threaten to plunge the United States back into recession and our lawmakers take a vacation? Nothing exemplifies their unattached attitude than congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. She went on MSNBC and repeatedly defended herself and her colleagues stating that the recess was planned months in advance and it just happened to fall the week before sequestration was supposed to take place. Competent and concerned leadership would have scrapped those plans in order to get a deal in place.

I suspect both sides of playing the ‘wait and see’ game this time around. Both parties have a lot to gain if events play out the way they expect. Obama will have concrete evidence that Republicans are responsible for another downturn in the economy. If these cuts turn out to be nothing more than a blip on the radar, they’ll point to the Senate and President’s budget incompetence.

The reality of the situation is that our representatives in Washington have almost no skin in the game. None of them will struggle to feed their families at night. When I think of their role in this situation, I imagine two stuck up, whiny children standing off to the side driving their remote control cars right at each other to see who will flinch first.  If the cars crash, it’s the other side’s fault and they live another day, business as usual.

The Attitudes We Have, Not the Choices We Make, Will Determine Our Future

By Nick Davis

The 2012 Presidential Election has come and gone and it didn’t arrive any too soon. In an intensely contested race for the Oval Office that was commonly hailed as one of the most important of our lifetime, Americans chose to put their faith back in the hands of President Obama for another four years. Many have argued that if we continue down this path, it will be the end of America as we know it.  However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth, and I voted for Romney. 

You see, while any number of crises could be the downfall of the United States, they are merely byproducts of a much deeper and ingrained culture of political bickering and one-upmanship that I liken to some sort of ‘social disease.’ One doesn’t have to look far to find its vile dark side. 

As the polling results began reporting back to the media last Tuesday, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded into an angry furor. My liberal friends rejoiced at the thought of ‘Mitt Money’ sulking in defeat while my conservative buddies were disgusted that we gave ‘that communist’ another term. According to them, our government was going back on what made us great.

I turned on the television and I couldn’t escape it there either.  As a political junkie, I enjoy watching both Fox News and MSNBC. I am easily amused by their painfully obvious bias to their respective party. However, it’s one thing to be biased, it’s another to be downright disrespectful and hostile to the opposing side.

On Fox News, I witnessed a completely jaded and vitriol Sean Hannity referring to Obama as ‘the anointed one’ and Karl Rove insisting that his mathematical background knows more than the ‘gobbledegook’ the trained statisticians were producing, also known as evidence. MSNBC isn’t free of any blame here either. Chris Matthews boneheaded-ly and proudly proclaimed that he was ‘so glad we had that storm’ referring to Hurricane Sandy. It apparently allowed Obama one more chance of ‘good politics.’ What an absolute disgrace. Attitudes like these where we put national politics ahead of the decency of common humanity are what’s hurting this country.

Even our own elected politicians prefer to spite the other party rather than work together to tackle today’s most important issues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed it up best in October of 2010 when he stated, ‘my number one priority is making sure President Obama’s a one-term president.’ Really? Your number one priority isn’t to run on the platform you campaigned on, but to actively oppose the President in anything he does? I expect that kind of behavior from 14-year-old siblings, not public servants of the United States of America.

We as voters are just as much at fault as any of these media pundits or elected officials. During this last session of the 112th Congress, Senate leaders and Representatives garnered a pathetic 12% approval rating, the lowest such rating since 1947. It seemed as though we were ready for change; we were tired of the gridlock and infighting. You wouldn’t know it though by the way we voted. As whole, neither the executive branch nor either house of Congress garnered 50% approval and yet each party retained control of their respective institutions. We want change but we sure as hell don’t vote like it.

We’re stuck in this perpetual cycle of extreme partisan politics and hate. When we vote based on party affiliations and not policy solutions, we’ll never make decisions based on what’s best for our beloved country. When the politicians see the electorate as party minions, they’ll govern in such a way. Minions don’t compromise; they take everything they can get and then some. This in turn aggravates the other party, which in turn votes the party line just like before. When we interact with decency and respect, the media and politicians will follow.

The Student Loan Debate

Student Loan Debt

The total amount of student debt held in the United States exceeds $1 trillion.

Tuition at public, four-year universities have nearly tripled over the past two decades, while the cost of attending private institutions has nearly doubled.  Currently, the average student graduates from college with $25,000 of debt and many students are saddled with six-figure debt.

These figures should make it clear why a debate about student loans, and in particular government subsidized student loan interest rates are at the forefront of the political stage.

In 2007, Congress initiated a multi-year reduction policy on student loan interest rates or "Stafford loans." At 3.4%, interest loans currently sit at the lowest level of the aforementioned policy.  Set to double to 6.8% in July, one would expect the government, in an election year where young voters are a key constituency, to act swiftly to prevent the increase from taking place. But as can be expected in the current political climate, this issue been met with the usual partisan disagreement, inflammatory speech, and campaign rhetoric. 

Politicians are quick to visit college campuses, act “youthful” on late night television shows, and claim our educational system the key to remaining the world’s only superpower. Yet, they have been relatively inefficient in forging a solution that will keep college a viable option to millions of young Americans.  Just this week, top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, introduced a bill to extend the low interest rate for one more year, which he plans to pay for by raising taxes on the wealthy. He probably knows this won’t fly with his Republican counterparts, which makes you wonder if he’s trying to not get the bill passed.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell retorted " lets be honest, the only reason democrats have proposed this particular solution to the problem is to get Republicans to oppose it, to make us cast a vote they think will make us look bad to the voters they need to win the next election."

Whether its true or not, Reid certainly knows the Republicans would never pass this proposal. So, in response the Republicans submitted a bi-partisan plan that keeps rates low, and appeases both parties: you thought I was serious didn’t you?

What Republican Rep. Judy Biggert actually did was introduce a bill that similarly calls for a one-year extension on the low interest rates. To pay for it the bill calls for the elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund; a component of the 2010 healthcare reform law. As the Republicans would never pass higher taxes on the wealthy, the same can be said about Democrat’s hacking away at healthcare reform. Unfortunately, this back and forth just continues to take place.

This week, the House voted to extend the low rates on federal student loans. In a vote of (215-195), the $5.9 billion bill solves the interest rate issue along the lines of Biggert’s proposal. Yet, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, a statement he made before the final vote had been tallied. So, as a result, American’s are left with no solution, and no change. Partisan politics are reigning supreme, and yet again, a looming deadline is staring into the eyes of every American. 

Still Too Soon To Tell

The not-Romney candidates have proven time and again they have staying power. Even after a decisive victory by Romney in Illinois (which was expected), Rick Santorum had just as strong a showing in southern states. Newt Gingrich, struggling to pay his bills this week, has promised to stay in the race, even if it means running his entire campaign by himself.

Given the amount of time and money that Mitt Romney is having to spend to fend off his erstwhile Republican nominees, some are expecting the 2012 general election to be relatively more easy for President Obama to be reelected. For Republicans this almost seems like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when just a few months ago the President’s approval ratings nearly dropped below 40%.

Although Obama’s approval ratings are on the up and up, American presidential elections are not decided by the popular vote. I would still bet Obama if I were in Vegas, but there is little room for error in his campaign and much potential for the GOP to win the election through the Electoral College.

The math is relatively simple: if Romney can take McCain’s 173 votes for 2008, and add Republican leaning states and toss-ups, this is a close race.

For example, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana typically lean Republican, and were picked up by Bush in 2000 and 2004. So let’s give those to Romney, bringing him to 212.

Ohio and Florida are big toss-ups, also won by Bush in 2000 and 2004, and would bring Romney to 261 electoral votes (Florida has gained 2 votes since 2008). Not quite to 270, but damn close. And there are a lot of states left in play: Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, etc.

Obama currently holds a statistically solid lead in most of the aforementioned states, but it is likely that lead will shore up in those states once a clear candidate emerges from the GOP and the race gets underway.

There is a lot of time and opportunity left in this election season, and while Romney will have to battle to win states like Ohio and Florida, it is not outside the realm of possibility. There are factors and events yet that might sway the American electorate, but above all, we should remember that you cannot call a November election in March.

Las Politicas de los Politicos

Hispanics are all the rage today, as far as politics are concerned.  As the fastest-growing minority group, Hispanics are the focus of elections, consumer items, and the future as a whole.  In general, they are considered a solidly Democratic voting bloc, but there are nuances to this view that come into play when talking about a Republican primary.  Hispanic-Americans come from different countries and cultures and arrive in America in different ways and settle in different areas, which means you cannot label them one way and call it a day.  Politicians and voters are becoming more aware of this and will need to tailor their approaches accordingly, which may not be easy given the multitude of factors in play.  This is especially evident in the run-up to today’s primary in Florida.

The main issue that comes up during speeches and debates by GOP candidates is immigration.  In general, most Republican candidates oppose policies that provide amnesty, do not strengthen border patrols or citizenship checks and legislation like the DREAM Act (which provides a path to citizenship via education).  These policies have allowed millions of Hispanic families to come to the U.S. over the years and so they place the GOP at odds with most Hispanic voters.  In Florida, however, things are a bit different.

The two main Hispanic blocs in Florida are Puerto Ricans and Cubans.  Puerto Ricans are American citizens, so their concerns over immigration – while not non-existent – are slightly different.  Puerto Ricans are free to move anywhere in the U.S. and are not restricted by any immigration policy or law put forward.  Traditionally, they vote Democrat.

Cuban-Americans, however, have the Communism/Castro factor.  Most Cuban-Americans in Florida fled Cuba during the Castro era.  They were able to escape an oppressive government and come to a land of freedoms, much like the boatloads of the downtrodden arriving at Ellis Island a century earlier.  Republicans fought (and continue to fight) against the scourge of Communism, having toppled the USSR and gone to war against the Viet Cong, North Korea and Red China.  The GOP’s continued resistance to Castro and Communism attracts Cuban-Americans to their rolls and has ensured the bloc’s support for many years.  Also, because of the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy from the mid-1990s, Cubans who make it to American soil are allowed to stay (whereas those intercepted off the coast are turned back).  This means that arrival in the U.S. is a near-guarantee of safe haven, as opposed to those immigrants that come from Mexico, Central and South American, who risk being sent back even after crossing the border.

The Republican presidential candidates have had their time to oppose immigration while focusing on the Hispanic vote in Florida.  We will see what the impact of their statements is as the primaries move on to other states.  Will they alienate the most coveted voting bloc elsewhere?  Will they change course once Florida is done with and soften their stance in an effort to woo the voters?  Voice your opinions in the discussion section.

Tim Tebow and the GOP

The first weekend of the New Year has now almost passed and as we sit down to night we know this:

1) College football is still being played and the BCS Championship will not be decided for another 27 hours
2) The NFL Playoffs have begun (more on this shortly);
3) Rick Santorum has proved relevant; and
4) the GOP presidential aspirants have held yet another debate.

From where we sit there were no major gaffes and no knock out blows. The candidates all took turns trying to show they could out-flank, out-wit, out-snark, out-conservative Mitt. No one seemed to have that magic…we wonder, will anyone show that magic, that spark, that drive, that will?

As the lights went down on the Pittsburgh Steelers season tonight in the shortest overtime in NFL history with yet another comeback led by the indomitable Tim Tebow we are curious if anyone in the GOP field can show what Tebow does on the field ? Whither the “tebowing candidate”?