Posts Tagged ‘polls’

Obama’s Tax Deal: A High Risk, High Reward Play

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

At a tipping point in his presidency, Barack Obama has embraced a Republican-slanted deal on taxes that has enraged his Democratic allies and emboldened his GOP enemies, a high-risk bet aimed at buying time on the economy while portraying himself as the only grown-up in Washington.

At a time when his recent weak and ineffectual performance increasingly draws comparisons to Jimmy Carter, Obama abandoned a fundamental campaign promise, and a basic premise of Democratic politics, by bowing to GOP demands to extend George Bush’s low tax rates for the richest Americans.

His agreement to continue those rates, for at least two years, is at the core of a compromise he negotiated with Republicans that he argues will help create jobs. The plan also calls for continuing current income tax rates for all other taxpayers and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits,  among other features. .

His play infuriated liberal Democrats in Congress, and, in a surprise move aimed at regaining control of the debate, Obama took to the White House press room Tuesday for a hastily convened news conference. In it, he not only strongly defended his deal as a pragmatic compromise that will help middle class Americans struggling in the sagging economy but also defiantly bashed his own political base, which is attacking him for ducking a fight against intransigent Republicans and their determination to protect the fortunes of the wealthiest one percent of people in the nation.

Comparing liberal unhappiness with his tax measure to the left’s loud complaints about his health care compromise, Obama said:

People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out. That can’t be the measure of — of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat.

Obama’s move, in the wake of huge Democratic congressional losses last month, is the most daring – and dangerous – piece of presidential triangulation since Bill Clinton and his toe-sucking erstwhile consultant Dick Morris forged a deal on welfare reform with Republicans after Democrats suffered a similar pasting in the 1994 mid-terms.

With national unemployment stubbornly stuck around 10 percent, and his own image sagging in polls, Obama’s gambit carries both considerable opportunities and huge risks for his presidency and, oh yeah, for the future of the economy. Here are some of the key political cross-currents:

Policy: Economically, the cost to the government of the proposed measure is staggering — about $900 billion over the next two years,  including about $120 billion for the high end tax reductions,  plus hundreds of billions more for extending lower rates for all other tax payers, along with expanded maximum unemployment benefits, a reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax and other changes.

But with the fragile economic recovery still sputtering, despite increases in corporate profits and other statistical signs of economic growth, Obama has agreed to what amounts to a second stimulus bill in hopes of spurring growth and creating jobs by the time of his re-election campaign in 2012.

Even if the measure succeeds in this way, however, the bottom line is that none of the elements of the compromise are paid for with either higher taxes or spending cuts. This means that the $900 billion will balloon the deficit even more, at a time when the Tea Party and other right-wing factions are clamoring for debt reduction as the highest priority for the government.

Annie Lowery over at Slate has an excellent take on these issues.

Politics: One political goal of Obama’s triangulation play is to win back the support of independent voters, who strongly supported him in 2008 but overwhelmingly fled to the Republicans in last month’s elections.

By challenging fellow Democrats over the bill, Obama signals independents that he puts results above party, even as he harshly criticizes Republicans for placing their own ideology over the economic welfare of Americans. Speaking of the GOP’s stance on the tax issue, he said:

I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed, then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

Positioning: By giving short shrift to what he portrays as the partisan concerns of both parties, Obama hopes to send the message that his political values are at their core those of a pragmatist, a post-partisan technocrat whose only interest is in making government work and giving people their money’s worth for their taxes.

“This isn’t an abstract debate,” Obama said several times during his news conference:

I’m not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy. My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving. My job is to do whatever I can to spur job creation. My job is to look out for middle-class families who are struggling right now to get by, and Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own.

By kicking the can down the road for two years on the debate about taxes for the wealthy, Obama could gain some additional advantage. Because the extension is only for two years, the issue will resurface at the height of the 2012 campaign, and the president is gambling that both the economy and his own political standing will have improved by then.

On Tuesday, he repeatedly pointed to the Senate’s failure last weekend to pass legislation, which he favors, that would have continued lower tax rates for 98 percent of Americans, but raised them for those with annual incomes above $250,000 in one defeated bill and $1 million in another. But at the same time, he insisted that most Americans agree with his position:

This is not a situation in which I have failed to persuade the American people of the rightness of our position. I know the polls — the polls are on our side on this.

It is this argument that so infuriates many Democrats. With public opinion strongly in favor of raising taxes on the rich, liberals would love to pick a fight with Republicans on the issue, daring them to block the extension of lower rates for 98 percent of Americans on behalf of protecting the top few percent.

They argue that one of a president’s most crucial jobs is to rally the public on behalf of his program, particularly when a majority of voters agree with him, and many Democrats view Obama’s unwillingness to do exactly that as shameful political cowardice.

“I am not arguing from a position of political weakness,” Obama insisted.

Well, actually…

The biggest problem for Obama may be that, political calculations aside, he has basically ceded the merits of the argument over taxes to the Republicans. After winning the presidency by campaigning against conservative, supply-side economic orthodoxy, he now enthusiastically is pushing a proposal that is based on precisely those policies.

If the tax package works, unemployment declines and the economy starts to surge, Republicans can rightfully argue that they were right all along on taxes; if it doesn’t work, Obama will be stuck with both a bad economy and a lot of very angry Democrats.

P.S. As a political matter, the most memorable scenes from Obama’s news conference came when he was denouncing fellow Democrats. It was clear from his words and his tone that he is still carrying a major grudge over liberal denunciations for not getting a public option included in the final health care bill:

You know, so this notion that somehow, you know, we are willing to compromise too much, reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again.

We finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get, that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people…that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise. If that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it: We will never get anything done.

Further reading: Check out Jill Lawrence’s strong piece at Politics Daily, where she argues that the president did a pretty good job with a lousy hand.

Daily Kos Pollster Busted; The Shame of Lara Logan

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

We’re sorry to say Calbuzz was not all that surprised to hear that Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas on Tuesday announced he plans to sue Maryland based pollster Research 2000 for fraud, charging, in essence, that surveys the firm did for the liberal blog were cooked.

Loyal readers will recall that last summer, in a post jointly published in the Los Angeles Times, Calbuzz threw gallons of cold water on a Survey 2000 poll for Daily Kos that said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had pulled within nine points of Attorney General Jerry Brown in what was then a primary campaign for governor.

We noted then, among other problems, that the Survey 2000 poll had a screwy method of deciding who was a registered voter – including some voodoo statistical dancing and prancing to supplement their list of voters with “self-identified” Dems and Reeps.

So Markos is surely on solid ground when he says: “We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it.”

That’s how we felt about the Daily Kos results back in May, which had Jerry Brown’s favorable/unfavorable at 48-43% and Meg Whitman’s at 47-38%. It just made no sense.

We have, in the Calbuzz library, a copy of Michael Wheeler’s important 1976 book titled “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics,” which owes its title to a saying attributed to both Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”

But since at least half of us has worked in the polling business, we know it’s possible to field public opinion surveys that actually measure public opinion. On the other hand, we also know there are some people who claim to be pollsters who really are hucksters. Looks like Daily Kos bought into one of them.

Toldja II: We’re also sorry that it didn’t take long for our prophecy to be fulfilled  about the journalism geniuses in Washington pulling a Lord of the Flies number on Michael Hastings, whose superb Rolling Stone report about Afghanistan instantly rebooted the national debate over the longest war in U.S. history.

Because Hastings, a mere freelancer, managed in the process to skunk and show up all the sycophantic, self-important establishment reporters on the beat, they naturally had to try and make him look bad, with Howard Kurtz,  high priest of the temple of MSM Beltway journalism, leading the charge.

Kurtz is a walking conflict of interest who gets paid by the Washpost to cover media affairs, including those involving CNN, his other employer.   Conveniently for CNN, they also pay the oleaginous Kurtz for hosting “Reliable Sources,” a Sunday morning gab fest about the media, and a powerful pulpit that he used this week to undercut the legitimacy of Hastings’ reporting.

The show began with a long distance interview with Hastings, who was then still in Afghanistan, in which Kurtz tried to channel Mike Wallace, asking the writer a series of confrontational questions, and consistently interrupting when Hastings tried to answer.

He followed with a segment featuring Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, whom he noticeably did not interrupt, instead letting her spout off freely and proceed to basically call Hastings a two-faced liar and challenge his otherwise undisputed reporting.

Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there no ground rules laid out.* And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me….I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just – I just don’t believe it.

Well, all righty then. If Lara Logan doesn’t believe it, notwithstanding that she has no, you know, facts to sustain her very strong feelings, hell that’s good enough for us.

Not content to hurl mere fusillades of innuendo at Hastings, the dynamic duo followed with this colloquy:

KURTZ: When you are out with the troops and you’re living together and sleeping together, is there an unspoken agreement –
LOGAN: Absolutely.
K: – that you’re not going to embarrass them by reporting insults and banter?
L: Yes.
K: Tell me about that.
L: Yes, absolutely. There is an element of trust. And what I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion and, you know, he’s laid out there what his game is. That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don’t – I don’t go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life.

Where, oh where do we start?

First, here and throughout the interview (the transcript is here) Logan absolutely makes the case, argued by Hastings among others,  that MSM types like her owe their first loyalty to their sources, and see their role as being part of the team – rather than being, first and foremost, the eyes and ears of their readers and viewers.

Second, listening to Lara Logan hold forth about “trust” is kind of like hearing Meg Whitman lecture on the virtues of poverty, given that LL is a notorious home wrecker who was square in the middle of the infamous  “Steamy Baghdad love triangle” a few years back.

That sordid little bit of business ended with her married to a guy who happens to be a top-drawer State Department military contractor, which makes her objectivity on this whole war effort thing more than a little suspect.

“Living together and sleeping together,” indeed.

*(Hastings never said there were no ground rules. He said that everything he reported was on the record, and that if someone asked him to keep something off the record, he did).

Must reading: Matt Taibbi’s head absolutely exploded over Logan’s shameless performance, and he responded by dealing her one of the best body slam take downs (delicately titled “Lara Logan Sucks”) in memory, while Geoffrey Dunn’s skewering of her is somewhat more surgical but no less effective and Charles Calderon at Yahoo News has the best links and overall takeout on the continuing controversy.

Today’s sign that civilization is getting better all the time: I’ll have the meat lovers combo!

Rocky Poizner Battles Back Against eMeg Creed

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

There’s a great scene in “Rocky,” after underdog Sylvester Stallone has just hammered the arrogant heavyweight champion Apollo Creed with a couple of roundhouse lefts, and the champ’s corner man yells at him to stop preening and prancing around:

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show,” says Creed’s trainer.  “He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

The classic cinematic moment came to mind Wednesday, when Steve Poizner’s campaign for governor delivered a major blow against the mantle of inevitability that Republican primary rival Meg Whitman has worn for months:

After trailing eMeg by 40+ points as recently as a few weeks ago Team Steve trotted out a quartet of senior strategists for a conference call with political writers to proclaim that they’ve closed to within 10 points, with nearly five weeks to go before the June 8 election.

“The Meg Whitman campaign is one of these classic campaigns which is sort of somebody walking around with a paper bag full of water. It wasn’t going to leak, but once it went, it would go. And that process is very much underway,” said chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

That there is some substance behind their spin had already been demonstrated, when Whitman’s handlers – after learning about the upcoming Poizner press call — convened their own conference call, leapfrogging Poizner by 30 minutes. Pre-spin spin.

“Our polls have been tracking with the public polls and I would be very strong in suggesting take any internal poll spin 30-32 days out with a grain of salt and keep an eye on those public polls that aren’t paid for by an interested party,” said Whitman strategist Mike Murphy. “Still, I want to be very clear we have always expected this race to close, and I think we’ve been very direct in telling you guys that.”

Poizner, he said, has “spent about $14.5 million on negative advertising targeting Meg Whitman, most of it misleading and disingenuous, but it has served two purposes. One, it has confused Republican primary voters — and we’re going to get them unconfused–  and second it’s made Steve Poizner fundamentally unelectable in the general election.”

The dueling spin sessions heightened the growing sense of immediacy and aggressive engagement in the GOP race, building on the hostile tone of Sunday’s Meg-Steve debate, and the recent multi-million dollar volleys of attack ads the contenders are launching against each other, during every popular TV show from “Lost” to “Dancing with the Stars.”

And speaking of movies, the several hour spin cycle played out kind of like “Rashomon” with both sides looking at the same events and developments and offering entirely different interpretations. Here’s a look at the highlights:

Polling – Poizner trotted out Neil Newhouse and Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies to offer what they said were the key findings of their latest three night tracking poll (May 2-4, 800 undefined “likely Republican primary voters”). According to Newhouse, in the middle of February – the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” he called it – Poizner trailed Whitman 59-11%; now, he said, eMeg’s lead has been cut to 38-28%.

Both candidates now have negative impression ratings, he said, eMeg’s favorable-to-unfavorable at 25-49% and Poizner’s at 30-39%. “The more the voters see of Meg Whitman, the less they like her and the more they see of Steve Poizner the more they like him,” said Stevens.

Whitman’s Murphy did not actually dispute the ballpark numbers presented by Newhouse.  “We are holding a strong lead but we’re running this campaign like we’re one point behind.” He said Whitman is a “lot closer” to holding 50% of the GOP vote than Poizner is and that Whitman’s lead is “a double-digit number.”

Message – Stevens said that Whitman’s message had been “muddled” – “they’re attacking Steve for not being conservative enough, but she’s never even said she’s a Republican” – and that Team eMeg had committed a  blunder by coming out of the box very early with negative attacks on Poizner instead of laying down a positive track. He said the Whitman campaign “made a strategic error attacking Steve so early” with ads that ridiculed, belittled and made fun of Poizner. “Voters have reacted very negatively to that,” he said, “they’ve been oversold.”

Stevens refused to say what Poizner’s mix of negative to positive ads would be.

It’s clear that Poizner will be seeking to dash against one of Whitman’s strongest arguments: inevitability; “I think it is remarkable that Whitman has failed to really lock down this race with the amount of spending she’s done so far,” said Newhouse. “It makes you wonder whether that can be corrected by spending even more money down the road. This race is still yet to be decided. We still have a lot of time left in this campaign. And voters are moving at a fairly rapid pace. If Whitman is unable to reverse this trend, then I think you are looking at a real upset here in the making.”

Murphy continued to argue inevitability. “We’re now in a debate over whether Steve Poizner will lose huge, lose medium, or lose a little tighter,” he said. “A vote for Poizner is really in many ways a vote for Jerry Brown because Commissioner Poizner has made himself completely unelectable in the general election.”

He said Whitman is “the only fiscal conservative” in the race and suggested that the campaign would be mailing strongly negative material about Poizner to voters in the coming days.

He also sought to turn Whitman’s Goldman Sachs taint back on Poizner. “The Goldman Sachs ad I know is a big spin item to the Poizner campaign but I don’t know I think it’s got to spin heavy and the full Goldman story has not been told,” Murphy said. He then threw out an allegation for which he offered not a shred of evidence: “I think Mr. Poizner should release his Goldman transactions during that time, during the tech boom when he was a wealthy individual there and I bet 50,000 that those returns would show that Steve Poizner participated in the same kind of IP shares that he’s accusing Meg Whitman of getting.”

Mechanics – The Whitman handlers stressed that their campaign has superior organization, including phone banks and  voter contact. In addition to endorsements like the Farm Bureau and former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the campaign has built a huge volunteer structure, said consultant Jeff Randle.

“We are up and running in all 58 counties across the state,” he said. “ We have 15,000 committed volunteers that are out working for us at this stage of the campaign that’s more than any statewide campaign, gubernatorial campaign, that I’ve ever seen in this state. We’ve got phone banks going every night. We’ve got four field offices around the state: LA, Orange County, San Diego and the Bay Area. We started our volunteer program last night, we’ve made almost 100,000 phone calls in the first week. You’ll see yard signs popping up all over the state here in the next couple of days for Meg. On the stump you see crowds continue to grow, there’s excitement, there’s momentum, there’s buzz.”

Murphy predicted that a huge proportion of the electorate – 30-35% — would cast their votes as permanent absentees by the end of May suggesting that the notion that there’s still a lot of time left to move against Whitman is a fallacy.

Stevens mocked the notion that Whitman is “a grassroots candidate” and said the fact that Murphy was talking about process was a sign that their messaging had failed.

Jim Brulte, chairman of the Poizner campaign disputed Murphy’s assertion that a third of primary voters would cast ballots so early because of the many high-visibility propositions that voters will want to study before coming to a conclusion and mailing in their ballots.

Perhaps the most intriguing subject was one that was not discussed: unlike most other campaigns, there was no mention of fundraising, normally cited by campaigns as a marker of progress or success. With the two zillionaire squaring off, money is not obviously no object.

Calbuzz bottom line- The Republican race has now been joined and the big winner in yesterday’s spin war was the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Said Murphy, calling Poizner a “surrogate” for the attorney general and the labor unions: “The one person who’s enjoying this more than anyone else is Jerry Brown.”