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Exit Polls and Retrospective Bandwagons

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby, responding to CNN’s exit polls:

It’s hard to believe that those data are accurate. Did four percent of last week’s voters really vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004? And what would explain that nine-point gap between Bush and Kerry voters? In theory, Democrats were enthusiastic about last week’s election, Republicans somewhat less so. Can it really be that 46 percent of last week’s voters voted for Bush in 2004—versus only 37 percent who voted for Kerry?

Bob isn’t considering one crucial possibility here: misreporting. Political scientists have found a “retrospective bandwagon” effect in which some people will remember having voted for the winner even if they didn’t. One example, as this paper reminds us, is that after his razor-thin victory about 65% of respondents claimed to have voted for JFK. Admittedly, Bush’s extreme unpopularity should lessen these effects, but then this a pretty small retrospective bounce.

It is, of course, true that exit poll data should be treated carefully. But there’s nothing about the 2004 election question that would suggest that CNN’s sampling was bad; it’s about the result you would expect.


But I Manage ‘Cuz I’m A Savage Inside

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Some excellent work from Dan Savage here:

The point about churches engaging in political funding and activism and then hiding behind the bushes is a particularly important one. It’s also good that Savage has apologized for his post-election scapegoating of African-Americans.

By the way, does the backlash against Prop 8 prove that initiatives are a bad political strategy? Or does this logic only apply to backlashes against progressive strategies?

Doubling Down on Twenty

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Apparently, in response to their initiative getting roughly 0.0% of the vote in Colorado, advocates for giving zygotes constitutional rights are planning to broaden their campaign. I would advise anti-choicers in the strongest possible terms to put their resources behind this movement. But who will protect the Spermatazoan-Americans?

"Law & Order" Conservative of the Day

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Nino Scalia.

Yet More Backlash

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

As Jeffrey Rosen’s dialogue partner, Richard Just makes several very good points here. Two are worthy of emphasis. First, he’s right to say that “I am not convinced that the backlash against gay marriage is fueled primarily by a dislike for judicial tyranny. Rather, I think it’s fueled primarily by a dislike for … gay marriage.” As Just says, opponents of gay rights have mobilized against actions by elected officials, and on the other hand there’s been little backlash in Massachusetts or Connecticut, where the policy outcomes show every sign of being stable. Which brings us to his second important point: “Second, I think it’s important to point out that the gay rights movement has not worked exclusively through the courts. The reason it sometimes appears that the gay marriage movement has focused on the courts is because those are the only places it has actually had success.” This is a pretty high bar for those claiming that litigation is always a bad stretegy to get over.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s reply doesn’t really address these points squarely, but has a couple of additional howlers. This argument is very strange:

I suspect that that gay people in California as a whole would have had the right to marry more quickly if the political process had taken its course. Repealing Prop 8 will be more difficult, given the mobilization of well-funded anti-gay marriage forces from around the country. (The pro-choice movement learned the same lesson after Roe v. Wade.) I wonder, for example, whether 70 percent of African American voters would have turned out to oppose a legislative, rather than a judicial, declaration of gay marriage…

First of all, and rather embarrassingly, Rosen still seems unaware that the California legislature couldn’t legalize same-sex marriage; the previous initiative functions like a constitutional amendment. On the second point, and leaving aside the fact that I’m going to guess that if any additional African-American voters “turned out” most of them did so to vote for Barack Obama rather than to vote against same-sex marriage, where’s the evidence? Rosen doesn’t have any, but that we do know is that less than 10 years ago a much larger majority of Californians voted against same-sex marriage before the California courts had done anything. There’s no reason to believe that the judicial intervention is the key variable here.

In addition, trying to backtrack from his previous argument that the enduring support for judicially-protected abortion rights proves…that litigation is a bad strategy, Rosen engages in some revisionist history about Roe, arguing that “[m]ost of the backlash against Roe focused on restrictions on later term pregnancy, which national majorities supported and the Supreme Court eventually permitted.” Again, there’s no reason to believe that this is true. First of all, none of the statutes struck down in Roe limited their restrictions to late-term abortions. Secondly, Roe itself permitted the state to ban post-viability abortions with a health exemption, and this remains Supreme Court doctrine. The changes in Casey had nothing to do with late-term abortion; rather, the “undue burden” stadard permitted various regulations of abortion that were applicable at any stage of pregnancy. Indeed, the regulations the Court upheld in Casey if anything make it more difficult for women to obtain first-trimester abortions by putting regulatory obstacles in their path. At any rate, it’s hard to see how abortion regulations that Roe permitted could have been the source of the backlash against Roe.

Why Wasn’t This Briefed?

[ 0 ] November 11, 2008 |

The Supreme Court yesterday denied cert in two cases asking them to review standards for the “victim impact” statements that the Court decided to reverse course with unusual speed and permit at the sentencing phase of death penalty trials. The dissents make some interesting arguments, but I think they overlook a key constitutional issue:

All 37 states and the federal government that maintain the death penalty allow victim impact evidence in the sentencing phase of murder trials. In the cases denied review on Monday, the evidence was composed of a 20-minute videotape in one case, and a 14-minute videotape in the other. The 20-minute presentation included dozens of still photographs and video clips depicting the victim’s life, set to the music of recording star Enya, with a voice narration by the victim’s mother.

If forcing a captive audience at a state trial to listen to Enya isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is. I hope a future case will consider the second Eight Amendment issue.

Meanwhile, in the interests of being fair-and-balanced for those Enya fans out there, I present an alternative perspective from an objective critic:

Pondering the fate of post-September 11 pop, everyone predicted what they already wished for–Slipknot undone, Britney in hiding. What happened instead was the unthinkable–sales of Enya’s first album since 1995 spiked 10 months after release. (And she thought that movie where Charlize Theron fucked Keanu Reeves and died of cancer was a promotional coup!) Two years in the making with the artiste playing every synthesizer, the 11 songs here last a resounding 34 minutes and represent a significant downsizing of her New Age exoticism since 1988’s breakthrough, Watermark–it’s goopier, more simplistic. Yanni is Tchaikovsky by comparison, Sarah McLachlan Ella Fitzgerald, treacle Smithfield ham. Right, whatever gets folks through the night. But Enya’s the kind of artist who makes you think, if this piffle got them through it, how dark could their night have been? Like Master P or Michael Bolton only worse, she tests one’s faith in democracy itself.

Maybe a little generous, but…

The Next "Real America"!

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I think we have the media’s winner starting in 2010:

“Among Oklahomans, Mr. Cook and Mr. White are hardly alone. Though the state’s Democrats still outnumber its Republicans, you would never know it by looking at the election results. Oklahoma voters went for Senator John McCain by almost two to one, bucking the tide that swept Mr. Obama to the presidency. Not a single one of the state’s 77 counties backed Mr. Obama…


“Oklahoma Democrats, with very few exceptions, are the old-line white Southern Democrats,” said David Ray, another political scientist at the university. “They don’t like liberals or liberalism.”

Indeed, the state has a political landscape closely resembling that of the old solidly Democratic South, especially in its southeastern corner, known as Little Dixie, where many Southerners settled after the Civil War. When conservatives of the Old South began abandoning the party decades ago, Oklahoma’s Democrats lagged behind the historical trend. Further, the state has relatively small black and Hispanic populations, and so the Democrats did not absorb as many new voters from those groups as in the states of the old Confederacy.


Another Republican, State Representative Sally Kern, who recently declared that homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism, easily won re-election.

Wow, I think according to Mark Penn’s calculations Oklahoma’s votes should count at least 12 times those of quasi-“Americans.” And I expect David Broder to write a column urging that Oklahoma be moved to the front of the primary calendar, as recent elections results have suggested that Iowa and New Hampshire are becoming a touch less American.

On a related note Mark Schmitt grades the election theories, and notes that the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — the very opposite of the “obsessive focus on the Real American reactionary rural/exurban white voter” beloved by so many pundits and Republican politicians — is looking better than most of the alternatives.

Infrastructure + Cap & Trade = Good Stimulus Package

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

I’m convinced.

John Kyl’s Profound Respect for Tradition

[ 0 ] November 8, 2008 |

John Kyl, April 2005: “For 214 years it has been the tradition of the Senate to approve judicial nominees by a majority vote. Many of our judges and, for example, Clarence Thomas, people might recall, was approved by either fifty-one or fifty-two votes as I recall. It has never been the rule that a candidate for judgeship that had majority support [nice dodge to write the Abe Fortas filibuster out of history!–ed.] was denied the ability to be confirmed once before the Senate. It has never happened before. So we’re not changing the rules in the middle of the game. We’re restoring the 214-year tradition of the Senate because in the last two years Democrats have begun to use this filibuster…This is strictly about whether or not a minority of senators is going to prevent the president from being able to name and get confirmed judges that he chooses after he’s been elected by the American people. And it’s never been the case until the last two years that a minority could dictate to the majority what they could do.”

John Kyl, this week: “Kyl said if Obama goes with empathetic judges who do not base their decisions on the rule of law and legal precedents but instead the factors in each case, he would try to block those picks via filibuster. [What does this even mean? How can judges apply law and precedent without considering particular facts of the case?–ed.]”

That didn’t take long! I suspect that Andy McCarthy is about to re-discover that the Constitution does, in fact, permit filibusters within a couple months as well. As, I’m sure, will George Will.

Nothing. Not Even the Fee For the Gaming License.

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

I swear this is a “verbatim”, not a “shorter,” and we are aware of all internet traditions here:

According to the aide, Lieberman’s met with Harry Reid and discussions were very friendly. Reid wanted him to step down from his post as chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in exchange for heading a lesser committee. Lieberman reminded Reid of how loyal he’s been to the Democrats in myriad of ways despite the obvious disagreements, and indicated that would be unnacceptable.

Oh, yes, well if you just make an exception for such trivialities as “supporting the Republican candidate,” “speaking at the Republican convention in support of said candidate,” and “grotesquely smearing the Democratic candidate,” he’s been very loyal!

Reid’s choice is obvious: let Lieberman join the Republican conference with no seniority or chairmanships. I completely understand that broad party coalitions inevitable involve making peace with wankers. People who actively support the other party are a different matter. He has no leverage and won’t be a reliable cloture vote in any circumstances. Let him walk.

More Prop 8 "Backlash" Arguments

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

Jeffrey Rosen tries to spin the narrow passage of Prop 8 into a triumph for his prediction that In Re: Marriage would instigate a massive backlash, and he’s no more persuasive than McArdle. The central problems remain the same: he doesn’t explain how the decision made the status quo worse or made the entrenchment of same-sex marriage rights less likely (because such a claim would be transparently false.) Nor does he provide any evidence that judicial intervention made same-sex marriage any less popular. And, again, since the striking down of an initiative supported by more than 60% led to the passage of an initiative supported by 52%, I presume he doesn’t provide any such evidence because it doesn’t exist. Rosen makes some other assertions that are unburdened by evidence; for example, I would love to see some empirical justification for his claim that the Supreme Court’s tepid early-70s gender discrimination decisions torpedoed the ERA. A few other points:

  • It’s strange that he would bring the recent decision by the Connecticut courts into it, since he provides exactly no evidence that this decision had produced any backlash or that the court’s decision will not produce a stable policy otucome. Given that the governor has essentially conceded that the court’s decision will in fact stand, this lack of evidence is understandable but also fatally undermines his central argument. Litigation has led to stable same-sex marriage regimes in two states, and very nearly did in a third. Seems like good odds to me, considering that before the litigation started the number was zero.
  • Even more bizarre is his claim that Brown is an example of a decision by a court much more savvy about backlash than the California courts. Is Rosen seriously claiming that a decision that was unenforceable in many of the states it affected and radicalized Southern politics produced less backlash than In Re: Marriage? I don’t think Brown provides good evidence of a unqiue judicial backlash, but it certainly led to far, far more backlash than Rosen’s bete noires.
  • Rosen compares the anti SSM initiatives with the less successful abortion initiatives, but doesn’t seem to realize that in doing so he’s moving the goalposts to the 40 yard-line. Roe, of course, is at the center of Rosen’s claims about judicial backlash. And what we found this year is that after 35 years of Roe…abortion rights remain popular, and aboriton remains legal in every state after having been illegal in 46. How this provides evidence that litigation is counterproductive escapes me. I assume he’s arguing that this proves that the repeal of most abortion statutes was inevitable, but this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of American politics. Veto-point-laden institutions favor the status quo, and this is particularly true for statues (like bans on abortion) that disproportionately affect the politically powerless. It is much easier for the anti-choice minority to keep existing statutes on the books than to create new ones.

What a Wingnutty Era it Was

[ 0 ] November 7, 2008 |

I thought I was aware of most of the major pillars of Clinton-era foolishness, but I had no idea that there had been thigh-rubbing about Clinton having a hot tub (just like Saint Reagan, although the future Pulitzer Prize winner (!) MoDo neglected to mention that). Which leads us to one of the most horrifying passages in the recent history of American journalism:

I took some friends along so we could float a few theories about the iconic meaning of Bill Clinton installing a hot tub on the South Lawn — Jerry Nachman, the former New York Post editor who now works in TV; Dee Dee Myers, the former White House press secretary who now lives in L.A. and works at Vanity Fair; Barbara Hower, author and TV personality; Rebecca Liss, a reporter for The Los Angeles Daily Journal, and Mickey Kaus, a magazine writer.

Their comments are precisely as illuminating as you would expect. The person who wrote the column retains her presitgious editorial real estate for reasons I could not dream of explaining. [Via, of course, Somerby.]

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