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You Are the 100 Millionth Visitor

When I started this site in 2004, it was a bit of a lark and just for a few friends. Yesterday it passed the 100-million visit mark. Thanks for coming by!

Swing-State Voters Oppose Changes to Medicare

A new Kaiser poll shows that among registered voters in Florida, 80% think Medicare is very important or extremely important for their vote and by a margin of 53% to 38% they prefer Obama rather than Romney to handle the matter. Recent polls have shown Obama with a small but consistent lead in Florida, no doubt due in part to Florida's many seniors (in 2008, 20% of Florida's voters were at least 65). In retrospect, Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate may have been a mistake, since his plan to change Medicare from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program is wildly unpopular in Florida, the most important swing state of all. Furthermore, Ryan's plan is also unpopular in Ohio and Virginia, the second and fourth biggest swing states.

Also related to health care, nationally, Obamacare care is becoming more popular. The study showed that 45% of U.S. adults approve of it while 40% disapprove. The poll didn't ask why people disapprove, but earlier polls have consistently shown that something like 10-15% disapprove of it because they want to get rid of the fee-for-service model altogether and go over to a single-payer system like Canada has.

Maybe Mitt's Problem is Mitt

Considering that the election is almost 6 weeks away, we are getting a surprising number of premortems already. Some people have said that the problem is the Republican Party, which demands its candidates to take stands in the primaries that are deadly in the general election. Politico has another view. In a piece today, it argues that the reason Romney is falling behind is not the boring convention, leaked videos, Stuart Stevens, the improving economy, media bias, distorted polls, the message, or Mormonism. The problem is Mitt. He may be a great analytical businessman but on the campaign trail, he is no Bill Clinton. His political instincts are all wrong. His offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 during one of the primary debates was completely off. If he had said: "Betcha a million bucks" everyone would have known it was just a figure of speech and not an actual offer. If he had said: "I'll bet you $100" it would have been a plausible offer that wouldn't have shocked anyone. But $10,000 was just the wrong thing to say. It showed that he lives in a world where $10,000 is nothing, a world completely alien to most voters. The average family has $3800 in the bank and a credit card debt of $2200. These people don't make casual $10,000 bets.

Another problem Romney has is that the son of a millionaire governor who made a vast fortune liquidating companies and whose program is mostly tax cuts for the rich is not a good fit for an era where many people are suffering. Rich people have been elected President before. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Jack Kennedy were no paupers, but their programs were aimed at helping ordinary people, not helping people like themselves. John McCain had more houses than he could count, but his main goal was not cutting taxes for the rich. Romney seems completely tone deaf to the fact that a rich candidate can't run on a platform of lower taxes for the rich and expect it to go over well. If his main argument had been something like: "I am a businessman and I want to see 1 million new businesses created in my first four years" it would have made a totally different impression. People who have a vague idea of some day starting a business might have been attracted to that. But now he is stuck with what he is and there is not much time left to change it.

It is very hard for many Republicans to accept the fact that they have the wrong candidate for this moment in time (even though many of them actually thought that during the primaries), hence the search for scapegoats. The most popular one this week is the supposed bias of the polls. Critics say the polls contain too many Democrats so Obama looks good. Most pollsters, however, don't correct their samples for partisan identification. If 35% of the sample is Democratic and 28% Republican (as in a recent Pew poll), that is because 35% of the actual respondents said they were Democrats.

Is Romney In the Right State?

Romney and Ryan spent three crucial days touring Ohio, but some people, like Time's Michael Crowley, say they are in the wrong state. Maybe they should be touring Florida, not Ohio. Not only does it have more electoral votes (29 vs. 18), but it may be more winnable. Our current average of five polls this week puts Obama ahead of Romney in Ohio by a margin of 51% to 44%. In Florida, the average of seven polls show that Obama is only up 4 points there, 50% to 46%. Each state poses a different problem, however. In Ohio, Romney has to deal with his "Let Detroit go bankrupt" op-ed piece, something not wildly popular with the tens of thousands of workers at auto-parts plants in the state. In Florida, Romney's problem is Medicare. Both are formidable, but Romney is not as far behind in Florida and there are more electoral votes at stake there, so maybe Crowley is right and Romney ought to go south.

Provisional Ballots Could Cause Chaos after Election Day

While there has been a lot of talk about the voter ID laws, there hasn't been a lot of discussion about provisional ballots. After the Florida 2000 fiasco, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which among other things, provides that voters who aren't on the voting rolls or don't have the required ID can cast a provisional ballot, which will ultimately be counted if the problem can be solved after the election. If large numbers of people show up without voter ID, they will all have to cast provisional ballots. Consequently, the election results in close states could be delayed by a week or more. By then, the lawyers will have swarmed and it could get very, very messy.

Have Candidates Always Debated?

While debates are a standard part of presidential campaigns now, this was not always the case. In the 19th century, candidates didn't really campaign much, let alone debate. The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (1) were hardly debates at all, but rather a series of long (30-90 min) speeches and (2) were for a Senate race, not the presidency. The first modern presidential debate was Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960. American Prospect has a good story about the debates as well as some great footage of the Kennedy-Nixon debate. While many people watched the debate, subsequent candidates didn't think debating was worth the trouble, so the second one was in 1976. The current formats were established only in 1996.

A question that comes up all the time is: "Do debates matter?" The short answer is "not much" unless someone blunders badly. When Jerry Ford said that Poland was not under Soviet domination, it probably shifted some votes because it reinforced the image that Ford was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree (Lyndon Johnson once famously said: "Jerry Ford is so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time"). Most of the time Democrats think the Democrat won and Republicans think the Republican Republican won so they are generally not game changers. Here are some of the more iconic moments from past debates.

First Swing State Starts In-Person Voting

Early in-person voting started yesterday in Iowa, one of fewer than a dozen swing states that will determine the outcome of the election. Early-bird voters are generally highly educated, highly informed, and frequently quite partisan. They know who they support and nothing is going to change that opinion. The Obama campaign is encouraging voters to vote early because their current feeling is that this could be the high point of the campaign with the race tightening later on so every vote locked down now is a vote that can't change.

Our map above supports this view. Obama is now leading in every swing state except Missouri, which, like New Mexico, has lost nearly all of its swing. At 347 electoral votes, Obama has probably maxed out (with the possible exception of one congressional district in Nebraska he might yet win). It is very unlikely he will get more than 347 or 348 but could get appreciably less. Nevertheless, there is more joy in Chicago than in Boston right now.

The Undecided Voters Are Uninterested Voters

The popular image of the undecided voter is someone who has kept close track of the election and likes some things about Obama and likes other things abut Romney and just can't decide for whom to vote. For the most part, that is not true. The undecided voters aren't paying attention, don't have any opinion on the subject, and don't care much. There is also a good chance many of them won't bother voting.

Ezra Klein compares their attitudes on politics to his attitude on baseball: he knows it exists and at the end of the season there is a World Series, but he doesn't know who the contenders are, doesn't know who won last year, and frankly doesn't care. A better example for Americans would be to imagine you were called by a pollster asking who you thought was going to win the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014. For the undecideds here, the true answer might be: "Beats me and furthermore I couldn't care less." Of course, some of the political undecideds may watch the debates or start paying attention at the end of October, but for many of them, they think politics is too far from their lives to matter much.

George Soros Gives $1 Million to Obama superPAC

Nearly all the billionaires making big donations to superPACs this year have been Republicans, but finally one Democrat is stepping up. George Soros has given $1 million to Obama's superPAC Priorities USA. Soros has given money to other Democratic-aligned superPACs this year, just not to Obama's. He is reportedly not entirely happy with Obama. In previous years, a gift of $1 million would have been enormous, but with people like Sheldon Adelson shelling out $100 million, it is small potatoes.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Arizona 42% 52%   Sep 25 Sep 25 Rasmussen
Connecticut 54% 41%   Sep 24 Sep 26 PPP
Indiana 40% 52%   Sep 19 Sep 23 Howey-DePauw
North Carolina 48% 46%   Sep 23 Sep 25 Marist Coll.
New Hampshire 51% 44%   Sep 23 Sep 25 Marist Coll.
Nevada 49% 47%   Sep 23 Sep 25 Marist Coll.
Virginia 46% 44%   Sep 24 Sep 26 Suffolk U.

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Indiana Joe Donnelly 40% Richard Mourdock 38%     Sep 19 Sep 23 Howey-DePauw
Maine Cynthia Dill 14% Charlie Summers 33% Angus King 45% Sep 25 Sep 25 Rasmussen
Minnesota Amy Klobuchar* 57% Kurt Bills 28%     Sep 17 Sep 19 Mason Dixon
Nevada Shelley Berkley 43% Dean Heller* 49%     Sep 23 Sep 25 Marist Coll.
Virginia Tim Kaine 44% George Allen 44%     Sep 24 Sep 26 Suffolk U.

* Denotes incumbent