November 19, 2004

Michael Barone's Retrospective on his Almanac of American Politics Intros

Michael Barone's retrospectives on over thirty years of the Almanac of American Politics makes interesting reading. He goes over his analyses and predictions with the benefit of hindsight and the openness of someone whose wisdom is well enough established that he can admit to mistakes. Here's an example, on the 1982 almanac:
This Introduction includes summaries of the battles for the Democratic and Republican nominations which I think stand up very well. It has a neat summary of John Anderson's candidacy which also stands up well, but is a bit too snide; and it ends by noting that Anderson emerged with a mailing list three times larger than that of the Democratic party and that therefore "Anderson has the potential of reviving his candidacy in 1984 and may be an important political factor in the years in between." Nothing like that happened at all, and I should have had the good judgment to see that it wouldn't. The summary of the general election reads well, and I wouldn't change it today. The crux: "Voters wanted to reject Carter and were looking for reassurance that Reagan was acceptable. In the debate they got it. Reagan made no obvious mistakes; he stressed convincingly his desire for peace. He presented himself as an amiable and knowledgeable man, and one capable of inspiration." But I didn't mention his famous words, "Are you better off than you were four years ago" (they are mentioned later in the Introduction) and "There you go again."

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September 15, 2004

Why Do Senators Lose Presidential Elections?

The story below is from CBS, so I don't know if it can be trusted, but it did make me think about why Senators don't become Presidents, even though that is their dearest ambition. My thought: they're rotten administrators, so they can't even run a successful campaign.

In 2004, Senator Kerry's campaign is in disarray. In 2000, Senator Gore (later VP, but that doesn't help) lost to a governor. In 1996, Senator Dole lost to a governor. In 1992 we had a President vs. a governor. In 1988, Senator Dukakis lost to a CIA manager-Republican chairman-businessman. In 1984, Senator Mondale lost to a president. In 1980, we had a President versus a governor. In 1976, we had a President versus a governor. In 1972, Senator McGovern lost to a President. In 1968, Senator (later VP) Humphrey lost to Senator Nixon- narrowly. (Humphrey had been a mayor, I think, so maybe this is an exception.) In 1964, Senator Goldwater lost to a President. In 1960, Senator Nixon faced Senator Kennedy. And so forth.

Senator Harding did win in 1920. That's the first exception I can think of (note that I'm giving credit to Truman for having been President 1944-48 before he faced Dewey). Harding was notorious for his density, though, which means he was probably smart enough to let someone else run his campaign without interference, and I don't remember whether Cox was a senator or not. ...

"Our problem here is a national message," Coelho says. "What is it that we [Democrats] are? If you go to Kerry, that’s a disaster because the candidate should not be involved in solving disputes or the creation of his message.

"You need a [campaign] boss, somebody who says ‘Shut up, we are going to work this out.’ Not someone who can go around to Kerry, and that’s Shrummy’s forte," Coelho continues, speaking of Shrum. The Kerry campaign has over the past week refuted speculation that either Shrum or Sasso are running the campaign.

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September 07, 2004

Poll Histories: Kerry and Dukakis

Instapundit has been collecting Dukakis-Kerry parallels, e.g. here and here. This is, of course, a fun subject for conservatives at the moment. My electoral college map and prediction are looking better all the time, though now I'm starting to wonder whether maybe Bush will take California (see also

(for a better display, click

Here's my take on Kerry versus Dukakis. The similarity is that both were extreme liberals facing somewhat unpopular moderate conservatives in good economic times, but both were perceived as moderates and the press, heavily on their side, did all it could to preserve the moderate image. Both therefore had a strategy of not talking about issues, but that strategy ran into trouble when their opponents adopted the simple expedient of pointing out their liberalism using ads with specific, undisputable examples. At that point, their advantage in the polls started evaporating, as the diagram in this post shows. I've noted in a previous post the Rasmussen Reports polling data that shows that middle-of= the-road (i.e., wishy-washy) voters wrongly think Kerry is not a liberal. Kerry has a lot of support to lose still, when they learn more about him. Note what must be disturbing for him: Dukakis was in much better shape than Kerry until August, when they both started declining, but by September 1, Dukakis and Kerry were about even. Dukakis then fell even further-- and he didn't have Swiftvets to worry about.

Soxblog talks about "DUKAKISIZATION": how a candidate becomes a laughingstock. Kerry is an easy target for that, unlike Dukakis, who wasn't particularly goofy in appearance and manner until his campaign people told him to do things like drive tanks.

There are two big differences, I think. First, Kerry has a foreign policy records that can only be described as pro-communist, while Dukakis, a governor, had no foreign policy record.

Second, Kerry is highly vulnerable on character issues. His military record is fraudulent. He lied about American atrocities when he returned to America. He won't release his wife's income tax returns, an unprecedented secrecy in the recent history of presidential campaigns, which tells me there is something rotten hidden there (though it might be as simple as, say, not having any charitable deductions). He divorced his first wife under conditions as yet unexplored. He has lived extravagantly using the money of his second wife's dead husband. I don't recall anything in Dukakis's personal life that was as distasteful as any one of these Kerry defects.

What can Kerry do? If he wants to win, I think his best strategy is to keep on obfuscating and denying, and hope that somehow Bush self-destructs. That strategy is not likely to win, but that doesn't mean it isn't his best strategy. He is just not playing a strong hand. Or, if he wants to serve the public, he could imitate Goldwater and say all the extreme things he really believes, in the hope of moving public opinion in the long run even though he would lose the 2004 election.

It's time to bring back an old joke, I think, though it doesn't work as well as it did for Dukakis:

QUESTION: What does "Kerry" mean in the original French?

ANSWER: "McGovern".

By the way, on Dukakis vs. Kerry polling trends see also the Free Republic of July 17. One interesting comment there was:

I think another KEY point is the MEDIA BIAS factor, where polling data during the 'non-attention' time of the voters

Can someone run an analysis of the July/August #s versus the final numbers?

I think if you go all the way back to 1976, in every single race, the
Republicans improved on their July/August polling numbers:
- 1976 (large Carter lead -> small Carter win)
- 1980 (Reagan behind/even race -> big Reagan win)
- 1984 (small Reagan lead -> Reagan landslide)
- 1988 (Bush behind/Dukakis ahead -> Bush wins)
- 1992 (Clinton lead -> Clinton win smaller than Aug lead)
- 1996 (Clinton large lead -> Clinton wins by 7pts)
- 2000 (no change? Bush/Gore even in summer, then close election)

This is something worth exploring, perhaps even in a scholarly paper. Gallup has the data at the site I link to below.

Here is the explanation for my graph above. It uses Gallup poll data, recorded a bit sloppily because each date is actually from about 3 days of polling taken from here and here from I converted calendar dates to digital dates, and my Dukakis data is eyeballed from a strangely drawn Gallup graph. The poll is of "likely voters", in a two way race plus Neither, Other, and No Opinion, where I eliminated the Neither, Other, and No Opinion and show a candidates proportion of what remains. I graphed the data in STATA using the command

graph kerry dukakis date, xscale(3, 11.5) yscale(40, 60)xlab(3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11) ylab( 40, 45, 50, 55, 60) yline (50) connect(l[.] l[l]) symbol([kerry] [dukakis]) psize(200)

Then I saved it as a *.wmf file and converted to *.jpg. I couldn't figure out how to keep the Stata colors when I saved it, though.

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August 08, 2004

Should I Have Voted for Clinton in 1992?

I mentioned in a previous post that I now think, ex post, that in 1992, I should have abandoned sentiment and caution, and voted for Perot or Clinton instead of Bush the First.

This, of course, requires explanation. Bush the First was an excellent president, whereas Clinton was a joke, and Perot might have been even more out of place as president. We'll put aside the Perot hypothetical and focus on Clinton. If the Russians had still been threatening, it would have been too dangerous to have Clinton as president but the Cold War was over, and foreign policy was not so important. We did have the purchase of the U.N. by Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food program, the neglect that gave rise to 9-11, Clinton's blockage of U.N. action to stop the Rwanda genocide, and the absurd Kosovo War, where we helped Albanian drugrunners by bombing Yugoslav civilian targets, but none of these things turned out to be as disastrous as, say, a Soviet conquest of Germany.

On the plus side, the domestic results of Clinton's ineptitude were good, at least in his first term. Bush Senior and Junior each have at least one very bad social program to their debit-- the Americans with Disabilities Act, which unconstitutionally forces huge wasteful expenditures on very large bathrooms and empty-by-law parking spaces, and the presription drug medicare program, which will result in huge spending on behalf of the wealthiest age group in America and probably will result, indirectly, in price controls on drugs and the crippling of the most impressive sector of the health care industry. Clinton found himself unable to do any such damage. He did repeal some of the Reagan tax cuts, but that is a smaller matter.

Administratively, it took a long time for Clinton to fill his appointive positions, even with a Democratic Congress. It is now pretty much forgotten, and perhaps wasn't noticed much even in 1993, but the Clinton Administration was very slow off the starting block. It just couldn't get organized for a year or two, just as one might expect of a bunch of Arkansas politicians who cared more about elections than actually running things.

Finally, and most important, Clinton ended the dominance that the Democrats had had over Congress since the 1950's. This was all the more important because from perhaps 1950 to 1974, there existed many conservative Southern Democrats and Northern Cold War Democrats, but by 1988, almost all of them were gone, so Congress was truly controlled by people who were staunch liberals on all issues. Clinton, by a mixture of incompetence and selfishness, ended this. (Note, too, as a footnote, NAFTA and welfare reform, both bad politically for the Democrats but good for Clinton).

To be sure, Clinton's contribution towards good government were largely completed by 1996, so Dole would probably have been better for the 1996-2000 term. But even there, recall that Dole was a major supporter of the American for Disabilities Act.

Foreign policy is more important these days. That means that we had better keep Bush in office despite his poor domestic record. But the wise Democrat, if he cares more about policies than about who carries them out, probably should vote for Bush on account of his domestic policies too. Kerry would probably end up like Clinton in his second term, less beset by scandal, but unable to get much done with a Republican Congress.

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