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News from the Votemaster

The Final Debate is Tonight

The third and final presidential debate will take place tonight at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. It will be about international relations and foreign policy. The format will be the same "parallel job interviews" format used in the first debate. Bob Schieffer of CBS will try to moderate it.

Schieffer has announced that the debate will be broken into six segments, each starting with a question from him. The topics of the questions are as follows.

Undoubtedly President Obama will talk a lot about his getting Osama bin Laden, something George Bush promised for 7 years but failed to do. Obama will surely also emphasize that he promised to end the war in Iraq, and did, and is on schedule to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014. He will probably also call out Mitt Romney for flying to England in July and immediately insulting the Brits by questioning their preparedness for terrorist attacks at the Olympics. Foreign policy is not Romney's strong suit, but he will almost certainly try to attack Obama on the deaths of four Americans in Libya last month. All he can really do is criticize Obama since his experience in foreign affairs is limited (unless opening bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands counts).

Iran (and what to do about it) is bound be contentious. The problem for Romney here is that if Obama asks him point blank what he would do differently with respect to Iran, Romney will be hard put to give a specific answer other than "bomb them," which is not likely to play well in a country already weary of two wars in the Middle East in the past 10 years.

While we won't know until tomorrow which candidate won the debate, one certain winner is Lynn University, which is spending $5 million to prepare for the debate. It is a gamble for the university that the publicity will put them on the map and increase enrollments.

Dueling Polls Are in Deep Conflict

Yesterday's Gallup poll brought good news for Mitt Romney: he leads Obama 52% to 45%, well outside the margin of error. However, yesterday's Wall Street Journal poll said it is an exact tie at 47%. Both polls surveyed likely voters but one of them is clearly wrong. Why do they differ? Assuming both pollsters did their work carefully, four things come to mind. First, how did they deal with cell phones? Second, what is the likely voter screen each one used? Third, did either one force the data to some model of how many Democrats and how many Republicans will vote? Fourth, are minorities correctly represented in the sample? Errors in any of these could throw the results way off. When other national polls are considered, it is more likely that Gallup is the outlier here since most of the other polls are consistent with the WSJ poll and show a very tight race.

It All Comes Down to Turnout

Forget the half-dozen voters in each swing state who haven't made up their minds, aren't paying attention to the campaigns, and may not even vote. The real battle for each side is getting their supporters, who are ardent about the candidate but who find voting to be a big chore, to get to the polls between now and election day. The election is likely to be decided to which party is better at its get-out-the-vote operation, known in the trade as the "ground war." Democrats did a much better job at this in 2008 than Republicans but Republicans are fixated on not letting this happen again. Both sides have tens of thousands of volunteers pounding the pavement to get people to vote. In some states, for example, the list of who has already voted is posted on precinct doors every few hours on election day. The precinct workers check these regularly and then go to the houses of nonvoters known (from previous visits) to be friendly and offer rides, babysitting services, or whatever it takes to get the voters to the polls. A few votes per precinct nationwide can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Each Campaign Will Raise a Gigabuck

Obama's campaign has raised $969 million. Romney's is only slightly behind at $919 million. However, Romney went into October with a $43 million cash advantage due strategic differences with Obama's campaign. Obama spent money freely all summer defining Romney before he was well known. Romney hoarded his money for a big blitz at the end. Now it is blitz time, with Romney blanketing the airwaves with negative ads about Obama. However, Romney's cash edge is less than it appears because much of Romney's money was raised by the Republican National Committee rather than the campaign itself. The RNC is free to run any ads it wants to, but by law, the campaigns get the lowest rates stations charge any advertisers whereas stations can charge the RNC and DNC whatever the traffic will bear.

Also, the RNC has transferred a sizable chunk of its haul to the state parties, which may decide to spend some of it on races for the Senate, House, or even governorships. Very little of Obama's money has gone to the state parties, giving his campaign manager, Jim Messina, direct control of how nearly all of it is spent.

The Ten Biggest Political Blunders of the Year

OK, the campaigns raised a lot of money (and possibly stimulated the economy a bit) but not everybody got everything right. Politico has compiled a list of the worst political blunders of the year, summarized as follows.

The Billboards Are Coming Down

As a follow up to our story yesterday about the anonymous billboards designed to scare people into not voting, Clear Channel is responding to all the negative publicity about them and is starting to remove them today. Civil Rights groups and others saw them as a naked attempt to intimidate voters and Clear Channel didn't like the bad coverage it was getting about them.

Do Businessmen Make Good Presidents?

Since the start of the 20th Century, only three Presidents have been voted out of office after a single term. All three, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush, were businessmen. It is startling but true that GDP has grown 45 times faster under Presidents with little or no business experience than when these businessmen were in office. The Presidents who had the best stock market growth, FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama had essentially no business experience. The Dow has gained 16.8% per annum under Democrats with no business experience and lost 3.7% per year under Republicans with business experience. It is not clear why having business experience makes you a bad President; most likely there is no correlation between the business experience of the President and his performance on the economy.

Another interesting question is whether experience in government makes one a good President. To find out, click here.

It is Getting Harder to Vote

The New York Times has a story about how recent changes and attempted changes to voting laws in 41 states all have the effect of making voting more difficult. The changes fall into four broad categories:

Nearly all of these changes are in the name of stopping in-person voter fraud, which is completely negligible, while nothing is being done about absentee ballot fraud, which actually exists.

Some Notes about the Website

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This Website contains many more pages than the front page and Senate page. If you are curious about which ones are the most popular, take a look at a new statistics page: The pages listed there are clickable, so you can see what they are. As with all links to pages on the site, you need to use the Back Button to return to where you were.

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Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Florida 47% 48%   Oct 17 Oct 18 PPP
Missouri 46% 52%   Oct 19 Oct 21 PPP

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Missouri Claire McCaskill* 46% Todd Akin 40%     Oct 19 Oct 21 PPP
Virginia Tim Kaine 49% George Allen 48%     Oct 18 Oct 18 Rasmussen
Washington Maria Cantwell* 52% Michael Baumgartner 37%     Oct 14 Oct 14 Rasmussen

* Denotes incumbent