Saturday, October 25, 2008

In Case of Tsunami

Since the huge tsunami which struck in the Indian Ocean many communities have accelerated their tsunami warning and evacuation route notice programs.  We've seen lots of new signs all along the coast, but this one takes the cake.  If you want to get someone's attention about tsunami evacuation, how about this sign:

Note:  If this is your photo please let me know.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Electoral Map Shows McCain Must Sweep to Win

We've been looking at the poll trends, both nationally and in the key or battleground states.  For all the interesting trends and underlying possibilities that could shape the last ten days of the campaign, there is one perspective that is perhaps the most predictive of the ultimate outcome, and that is the status of the electoral college.  As of today's polls, McCain is over 110 electoral votes short of the 270 needed to be elected.  Obama has about 35-40 more votes than are required.  Now the voters may still shift, and do so dramatically - even a six or seven point shift is possible with the leading candidate under 50% - but as a practical matter this shift would have to be a perfect sweep for McCain to win the Presidency.  That is to say that he would have to win all of the battleground states, and one or two currently leaning Obama.  Obama, on the other hand, need only win one - Colorado or Florida or Virginia or...well, the point is that though it is still a possibility that McCain could win, and a likelihood that the race will be even closer than it is today, it is a very long shot that he could run the table.  Bookmakers are estimating the probability at 83% that Obama will win, and it is this electoral college situation that makes an Obama victory seem so likely.  Even if McCain comes from well back in the last ten days, and wins all but one of the states called battleground states, he'd still fall short of the required 270 electoral votes.  In short, McCain must win every toss-up and battleground state.  Now that, is a tall order.  MB

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is the 2008 Election Still Within Reach for McCain/Palin?

Whether the polls are nearer to three or seven nationally, the electoral map has been changing dramatically over the last month.  Karl Rove regularly publishes maps with his call on the state polls and the electoral status.  Below is the latest electoral college race according to Karl Rove: 

Electoral Map

I mentioned in an earlier post that the race seems to have some similarities to the 1980 election - one where the voters made up their mind over the last weekend that they were indeed comfortable with Ronald Reagan.  It occurs to me that it may also be like the 1948 election, where Truman was trailing by seven points with one week remaining in the campaign, and on election day the voters ultimately decided they were not as comfortable with Dewey as with the experienced Truman. 

Of course, many of these questions are driven by the perceptions underlying the overall preferences of voters for a candidate.  In that next layer of poll data we learn more about why they are leaning and choosing as they are, and we see trends that make the race fluid.  What we don't know is how high the tide will be on November 4, and in fact, which underlying trends will be lifted with whatever tide rises.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More close polls and slanted news coverage?

More polls show a tightening race - Gallup Traditional shows Obama regaining 5 point lead

Today the AP-GfK released its latest poll.  It shows John McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch, with Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, well within the margin of error. Just three weeks ago, this survey found that Obama had surged to a seven-point lead over McCain.

The IBD/TIPP Poll shows Obama's lead is down to 3.7 from 6.0. McCain gained ground in the West and with independents, married women, as well as gaining momentum in the suburbs, where he's gone from even a week ago to a 20-point lead. Obama added gains in urban areas and with lower-class households, but he slipped 4 points with parents. (IBD's polling partner, TIPP, was the most accurate pollster of the campaign season for the 2004 election.)

The latest Gallup Traditional Poll shows Obama stretching his lead back to 5 points from a recent low of 2.7%, while the Real Clear Politics average has moved back up to about 7% from a low of just over 5% on Monday. 

It is clear that McCain made some gains in the period after the third debate, though it is less clear how much he has gained, and if the increase has already peaked.  I still have some questions about how late-breaking voters will go - Obama is still running at just 52% 'ready to be President' compared to McCain's 80%, so it may be that late-breaking undecideds will ultimately decide that he is ready, or it may be that they won't reach that tipping point and will go for McCain based on his experience.  It is one reason that you'll see Obama exhorting crowds to vote early in his current stump speech. 

MEDIA Coverage Comparison - McCain stories overwhelmingly negative, according to Project for Excellence in Journalism study

The media coverage of the race for president has not so much cast Barack Obama in a favorable light as it has portrayed John McCain in a substantially negative one, according to a new study of the media since the two national political conventions ended.

Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. 

But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates—according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For Obama during this period, just over a third of the stories were clearly positive in tone (36%), while a similar number (35%) were neutral or mixed. A smaller number (29%) were negative.

For McCain, by comparison, nearly six in ten of the stories studied were decidedly negative in nature (57%), while fewer than two in ten (14%) were positive.

All of this makes me wonder if the media that seems to be favoring Obama in how he is reported are somehow tweaking the sense of fairness among viewers/readers with the overwhelmingly negative coverage? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Couple of Notes from Today on the Campaign Trail

Today I've witnessed two rather blatant examples of the kind of character assassination and ordinary meanness that has come to characterize politics and this campaign:

First, Barack Obama is taking part of two days off from campaigning to go to Hawaii. Now when I first heard this as a headline I thought, "Wow". Then a few minutes later I heard the details. He is going to visit his grandmother - the woman who virtually raised him - at her home. She has been ill lately, and broker her hip just last week.

So how does this show rancorous campaign behavior? Well, think about the headline I heard. It made the trip sound like a vacation, when it is indeed anything but a vacation. But it got worse. During the day I have read and heard comments and questions speculating about whether the trip is a political stunt to make Obama look more human and less detached, or whether he would be visiting his grandmother if he wasn't well ahead in the polls. That people are so focused on defeating the opponent, using every action or statement if a way to use it to discredit can be found. All that needs to be said about Senator Obama's visit to his grandmother is that he is taking two days to spend with his seriously ill grandmother. Period.

Second, I happened upon this gem from Malia Lazu, a Democratic strategist who was appearing on Neil Cavuto's show:

"If you have been lucky, to achieve your dream and it is a lot larger than everyone else, then as an American you should want to babies learn how to read, go to doctors and have schools."

This is an example of a couple things in my mind. Just look at the language she chose to use and you'll see some demagoguery and a clear indication that she views anyone who succeeds financially as having taken advantage of someone to do so. She also manages to use the royal 'should', to tell us that if we are decent people we must view this as she does. Here's what we learn from that brief remark:

1. People who succeed financially are 'lucky'.

2. People who achieve a dream that is a lot larger than everyone else (this tells us that the success described here is excessive).

3. If you are decent, a decent American you should (must) want to pay more taxes for the benefit of others.

4. The demagoguery comes last, where she takes a discussion of what sort of tax policy is best, fair, etc. and introduces the welfare of 'babies'. In other words, if you don't agree with her, even though she has made it clear that decent Americans should, then you must be against babies being educated and healthy.

Nauseating. If I had started out agreeing with her I would have to fight myself not to change my opinion just to avoid being linked in any way with this statement and the beliefs it reveals. She later went on to say that people who have made money have done so "on the backs of others".

So on the one hand, there are people who cannot help themselves and must question whether Obama visiting his ailing Grandmother is a political stunt, while on the other hand we are told that if we don't agree with raising taxes on the highest earners we support sick and uneducated babies. See why I hate the way politics are making us behave? Coarse, base, judgmental and, as Dana Carvey might say, "just a wee bit superior."

Attack Politics Gone too Far

Whatever one thinks of Joe the Plumber's question to Senator Obama, the way he was treated afterward has got to send a small shiver up your spine.  The guy asked a question about his family's financial future of a man running for president.  It is a question many Americans would like to ask.  And because he did this, he has been investigated in great detail.  People have pulled his tax records, his property records, his voting and contributions records.  Reporters have called his company, friends, even some customers for whom he has done work. 

Think about it for a minute.  Because a citizen asked a question of a candidate, he was fair game for reporters to investigate and background.  It was suddenly 'news' to know whether he is a licensed  plumber or simply works under the supervision of one (like many employees of plumbing companies do).  I can only imagine that if he'd been divorced three times, or had a DUI or any other prurient life event had been part of his jacket we'd hear about them as well.  Why?

A private citizen asked a question of a candidate.  The question got videotaped, and then broadcast.  The candidate used a phrase that stuck in the craws of many people, and the question became well-known.  But by the third day after the question was asked, the question was no longer the news.  The answer was no longer the news.  By then, what was really important about the matter was Joe.  Is he qualified to ask a question?  Did he trick the candidate?  Is he someone with nefarious intent?  Does he wear boxers or briefs?  Yes, the focus was very quickly removed from a substantive question and a meaningful answer to an inquest into the character of the citizen who had the temerity to ask it. 

For the record, I don't see anything wrong with the question OR the answer.  Government already 'spreads the wealth around' to a degree, and one key question before the voters is 'should government redistribute money from the wealthy to the poor' to a greater degree than at present.  You see, the Obama campaign feared that phrase not because it misrepresented what Obama wants to do, but because it was artlessly phrased and might hurt him in the polls.  McCain's campaign gleefully glommed onto it and announced that it makes Obama socialist.  We ALREADY do this, folks.  The question is not whether our society redistributes wealth.  The question is how much, and how?  And the fact that some guy that asked a perfectly meaningful and reasonable question came under attack from one side and was used as a prop by the other says as much as any other example about what is wrong with us in general and what is wrong with campaigns in particular.

I am saddened that we live now in a place where if I disagree with you on some matter, before long that disagreement is seen as justification to put my life and character on trial in the court of public opinion.  What is disturbing isn't just this, though, it is that the character bashing is used to deflect and halt examination and discussion of the real issue raised, which in this case was should we take earnings from people making over a certain amount to give to people of low income in various ways?  Rational human beings can make arguments and hold genuine beliefs from either side of that question.  Instead, we attack the guy that asked it and go back to labeling and name-calling.  The questioner becomes the story and the two sides of his question are lost in the new cliches shouted from the wings onto the electoral stage: "Socialist!" yells the right, while from the left come cries "tax breaks for the rich while the poor starve!".  And news vans park in front of Joe's house and sift through his garbage. 

Is there really anyone reading this that doesn't get why I am so sick of our politics and the direction public discourse is heading in America?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Polls Show Tightening Race

Beginning just two days ago a trend began that seems to indicate that the gap between Barrack Obama and John McCain is shrinking. Zogby released the latest poll (October 19), with Obama leading McCain by just 2.7% - within the 2.9 % margin of error. This follows the Gallup traditional voters poll, which was the first to show this recent trend.

In the battleground states, the most recent poll shows Obama's lead shrinking by one-fifth (down 1% from 5% to 4%) since last week, and that the bulk of the uptick for McCain is coming from the still-undecided voters.  The total undecided voter group dropped by 1%, about the gain McCain is posting.

The Rasmussen poll shows Obama holding a fairly steady five point lead, and that while most Americans feel that tax cuts are the most important thing that can be done to help the economy, many also feel that raising taxes on 'the rich' is not a bad idea.

So, if the race ended today? The oddsmakers line has Obama at 83% probability of winning. My questions:

Will McCain continue to trend upward?

Will undecided voters feel comfortable with what they know of Senator Obama as they near the election day and reach their 'tipping point'?

Will there be any Bradley effect?

For someone very tired of the coarse, abrasive and intentionally misleading campaign, looking at the many elements of public opinion and perspective is a welcome refuge from the mudslinging.

Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
As always, the photos we use are either my own, or in the public domain. Please let me know if there are any errors and I'll correct them immediately.