Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Reflections on Election Day

(Warning, seriously geeky political post below.  Normal service (err, that's more of the same then...) to resume tomorrow).  

I'm safely in DC for my final stop before coming home and back to reality.  Despite probably the second worst hangover of the whole trip (see here for the day after the worst) I was incredibly excited to get to the nation's capital especially after such a great result for Obama and the Democrats last night.  

Thought I'd do a post looking at some of the election results that I saw some of in my travels and also look at why the Republicans had such a terrible night.  

I had a slightly odd election night - I spent it in Nashville which was a late addition to my schedule and was at a dinner at The Standard Club.  You can probably guess from the website that there weren't many members of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the house that night and I was the token liberal at the table.  I was meeting with Doug Tatum who is a long standing friend of the Roosevelt Scholarship and having read his book, 'No Man's Land' I was intrigued to be meeting him.  There were a few other people at dinner from a diversity of backgrounds and we had a good discussion about the election and business - but I think I was always on a losing wicket being 4-1 against when we got into the real political stuff.  Think I acquitted myself reasonably well however.  

I then moved on to the Fleet Street Pub.  I usually avoid these kind of 'British bars' like the plague but I'd seen that Drinking Liberally were having their election watching party there so I knew that I'd be among kindred spirits.  Obviously it was a totally phenomenal result - far better than my (amateur) predictions and a great night.  The atmosphere in the pub wasn't as electric as you might expect - there was a kind of resigned relief rather than anything else - people had been reading the polls (see below) and hoping for best and the result was a cathartic relief rather than anything else.  

A few of the races and initiatives I've been following;

- Michigan Collective Bargaining.  This initiative, which failed, would have enshrined in the state constitution the right for trade unions to collectively bargain.  Passing this initiative was a very high priority for the UFCW colleagues that I met in Detroit and I'm gutted for them - I know how hard they were working.  The only positive thing is that the status-quo is kind-of ok - ie unions are able to bargain with employers and no-one is actively threatening to take that away like in Wisconsin so fingers crossed that things muddle along.  

- Washington gay Marriage.  On a more positive note, I'm delighted that this initiative to legalise gay marriage passed in Washington.  From a purely ideological point of view I firmly believe in the right of any couple, whatever their genders, to marry if that's what they want, but one of my Servas hosts in Seattle was a gay couple so here's to Sara and Rebecca - many congratulations on your upcoming nuptials!  

- Minnesota.  Again a great result on initiatives - rejecting restrictions on voter participation and gay marriage.  See some thoughts here on my experience of the election day process - asking for more ID can only harm this.  And a strong return to office for Rep. Keith Ellison who was kind enough to host me for a day in Minneapolis - what a guy!

- Montana Senate.  For some reason I've always been a fan of Senator Jon Tester.  I first came across him in 2006 via Daily Kos and I've always been a fan of his plain-spoken plaid shirted image so I was chuffed to see that he retained his seat.  Having travelled across most of Montana on the train my admiration for his ability to retain what is a very rural seat (great quote here: A profile of Tester after his 2006 election described his as "truly your grandfather's Democrat—a pro-gun, anti-big-business prairie pragmatist whose life is defined by the treeless patch of hard Montana dirt that has been in the family since 1916") for the Democrats and promulgate a broadly progressive agenda has only increased.  

Now as to how Obama won and why so many people thought he wouldn't I've just got a couple of comments.  

1) This isn't new or original, but the strength of Obama for America's GOTV and "ground game" was obviously decisive.  And it looks like a laser-like focus on places like Cuyahoga County in Ohio (basically, Cleveland and its suburbs) paid off in spades.  

2) The revelation for me on election night was the amount of self-delusional thinking around 'skewed polls'.  A quick detour before we get into this.  Many people will recognise the concept of group think and the 'echo chamber' where you end up believing your original opinions even more fervently when you discuss it with people of similar views.  And I'm as guilty of this as anyone - I socialise and work with people of very similar views and so always come up with a start when I meet people who fundamentally disagree with my views and almost forget why I believe what I do.  And so it's perhaps not a surprise that I hadn't come across the idea of Skewed Polling which apparently had been a common discussion point amongst Republicans for the last six or eight weeks.  The basic theory is that the public polls (which had been showing small but significant leads for the President in all the swing states for the last couple of weeks at least) were oversampling Democrats and were based on a 2008 turnout model.  This was all total news to me at dinner on Election night but I was firmly told by the Republicans present that Romney was going to comfortably win and that the polls were all 'skewed' (classic group-think).  This line of thinking generated a whole industry of recalibrating the polls - eg UnSkewed Polls.  (As an aside, it should be noted that the polling companies (like YouGov, MORI etc) many no money (or make a loss) on political polling - they do it to create publicity and as a loss-leader for more lucrative commercial work - so they stake a lot of credibility and future commercial work on getting it right and have little incentive to do anything other than report the truth as they find it).  This belief in Skewed Polls is a great example of group think and somewhat delusional self-belief - great summary from a friend here.  

3) The Republican ticket from top to bottom was pretty poor.  Romney was robotic and walked into stupid own-goals over not releasing his tax returns.  But the real issue was the terrible Senate candidates.  Again, a well-worked theme so I'll just link to a couple of articles that summarise it well: Akin and Mourdock on rape and a more general summary

Phew.  Ok, stopping now.  In summary: Obama won because they had a good plan and operation; some good results on gay rights and for unusual Democrats; trust the polling data; Republicans are terrible at selecting candidates. 

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