Friday, February 29, 2008

The Obama Response to 3 AM

The wonders of instant media.

Here is the Obama campaign's response ad to the Clinton camp's 3 AM piece:

What is experience without proper judgement? I think this is an effective response. And I think it will be part of the assault against McCain in the fall (should Obama be the nominee).

Which, by the way, points to a fundamental flaw in HRC's experience line for the fall campaign. McCain can say, "Hey, you supported this war, now you say you're against it, you were against the surge, and yet it has worked". Again, McCain can trump her with more experience AND make the argument that he has better judgement.

It's Experience, Stupid

Hillary Clinton has a new ad out that is clearly aimed at the Soccer Moms, stressing that she has the experience to meet global crises and not (by implication) Barack Obama.

Check it out:

The problem with this ad, I think, is if you really want experience, then John McCain is your man. I just don't find it effective.

Furthermore, given that this ad appears to be geared to mothers, that suggests bigger problems for Hillary. It indicates to this political observer that she's worried about her base. And if she's worried about her base, it will be a long day next Tuesday.

I'll post again soon on the question of experience and the presidency.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nomination Rules Matter

As the 2008 race for the Democratic primary continues to play out and Obama strings together victory after victory, some have reported that Texas and Ohio on March 4 are do or die for Hillary Clinton (see here). I tend to agree.

What is more interesting from my perspective, however, is how the differences between the Democratic and Republican nomination rules have produced very different delegate count outcomes between the two parties. I tell my students that rules matter, and this is yet another example. A series of winner-take-all rules in a number of states have allowed McCain to magnify the effect of close, plurality victories in the popular vote. The Democratic Party, however, does not allow winner-take-all contests. Rather, the vote in each nomination event must be apportioned proportionately.

If the Democrats had winner take all rules for their contests, could that alter the dynamics of the nomination fight?

What I've done in this chart is to calculate the culmulative delegate total under two scenarios: a winner take all scenario for each nomination contest and the proportional rules that currently exist. Then, I totalled the number of delegates each candidate wins on each day of the election calendar thus far. CWTAC and OWTAC are the culmulative vote totals for Clinton and Obama under a winner take all scenario at the end of each election day, and CP-C and OP-C are the proportional vote totals for Clinton and Obama, respectively.

What are the consequences of winner take all rules? Look at Super Duper Tuesday. By the close of business that day Hillary would have had a 300+ delegate advantage over Obama. But under the existing arrangements, Obama had the pledged delegate advantage by 16.

Under Winner Take All, Super Duper Tuesday would have clearly given Hillary the Big Mo. Under the plurality system, Barak is able to claim to have carried his momentum from South Carolina into Super Tuesday and beyond.

Now, let's do a little predicting. Let's see what competing under each set of rules does to the February 19 and March 4 contests. I've awarded wins to Obama in HI and WI (Feb. 19) and in Vermont on March 4. Hillary wins Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island. For the sake of argument, let's say Barak wins WI and HI with 60 percent of the vote, and Hillary wins her states with 55 percent. Obama wins VT with 60 percent.

Now, look at the next chart. Under winner take all, Hillary moves ahead of Obama in the delegate count by more than 200. Under the existing rules, Obama is still the front runner.

The consequence of the Democratic plurality rules is clear: it makes it very hard for a candidate in a competitive two-way race to break away. The end result of the 2008 Democratic primaries and caucuses might be a decision made by the superdelegates. What an irony in a system that was devised, initially, to be more responsive to the will of the people. Had winner take all rules exist, Super Duper Tuesday--as the Clinton's had argued all along--probably would've had sealed the deal for Hillary as the nominee.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether the superdelegates should ratify the choice of the electorate or to select the nominee based upon their own set of criteria (which, of course, is the classic delegate versus trustee tradeoff members of Congress make all the time).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Is McCain a Conservative?

There is a lot of hand-wringing by conservative Republicans concerning McCain's ideological purity. Conservative friends of mine have steadfastly refused to consider supporting McCain, arguing like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter that McCain is a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

I wondered: could political science shed any light on this matter?

Professors Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a measure of ideology that is widely used by political scientists. The math is way over my head, but essentially they took all congressional roll calls for each chamber going back to 1789, tossed them into a supercomputer and asked it to uncover any patterns. The results yielded two dimensions which explain much of the variation in roll calls, with Poole and Rosenthal arguing that the first dimension uncovered is ideology along a left-right dimension.

I used the NOMINATE data to plot some graphs of McCain's ideological journey during his service in the Senate.

Chart 1 plots McCain relative to the party mean and the ideological extremes within the party.

Chart 1

Two things leap out. First, notice that McCain pretty much stays close to the party mean during his entire time in the Senate. He starts out a bit more conservative and becomes a bit more moderate, but essentially he's a moderate WITHIN the party.

Second, notice how much more conservative the party has become since the 100th Congress. McCain has become more conservative himself, but the party has become MUCH more conservative.

To see how far the party has moved toward the right, look at Chart 2. This is McCain's conservative percentile during each Congress. He's 70% more conservative than his fellow GOP Senators in the 100th Congress (sandwiched between Dave Karnes (NE) and Strom Thurmond (SC)--hardly liberals). By the time we get to the 109th Congress, McCain is only in the 33rd percentile (between Thad Cochran (MS) and Kit Bond (MO).

Chart 2

Relative to his party, McCain appears to be a moderate. But there's yet another way to think about this. Is McCain conservative relative to the entire Senate chamber throughout his career?

I took the absolute distance between the most conservative and most liberal Senator in each Congress. I then calculated equi-distant cutpoints representing the categories of very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, and very liberal. I then plotted these cutpoints and McCain's NOMINATE mean throughout his career. The resulting chart takes into account the polarization which occurs between the two parties during the period and represents how McCain fares by comparison.

Chart 3

According to this metric, McCain falls consistently in the conservative camp during his entire Senate career.

So, is a McCain a conservative? Compared to the voting behavior of his Senate colleagues, he's been a consistent conservative. Compared to the voting behavior of his Senate Republican colleagues, he's a moderate. It is clear, however, that calling Hillary Clinton more conservative than McCain, as Ann Coulter has, is absurd. Hilary Clinton's NOMINATE score of -.496 from the 107th Congress on puts her squarely in the liberal camp in the U.S. Senate among her chamber colleagues and to the left of her party's mean. If anything, McCain has become more conservative relative to Clinton during their time in the Senate together.