Monday, October 20, 2014

Divided Government With Unified GOP Congress -
The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

The Good Bad and Ugly of Divided Government

Nate Cohn's enthusiasm for this election notwithstanding, the big decision to come out of the midterms is a foregone conclusion. After four consecutive and six of the last eight years, the midterms will lock and load at least two more years of divided government.  The Republican hand will be strengthened in both the House and Senate, but there is still some drama in determining whether the GOP will take over majority control of the Senate.  Most pollsters are giving it to them...

Will GOP take the Senate


... but the Dividist never underestimates the Republican's capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Our best bet is that the Senate will finish close to 50-50, and the GOP will flip a couple of Independents to take control. If the Republicans do take narrow majority control of the Senate in 2014, the recommended Dividist vote for 2016 will be to elect the Democratic candidate for President, as it is unlikely the GOP will lose control of both the House and Senate in 2016.

 With divided government a fait accompli through 2016, both new and main stream media are weighing in on what we can expect from our divided leadership over the next two years. For your reading enjoyment the Dividist has assembled recent wit and wisdom of the punditocracy on the subject of divided government. To bring some semblance of order to this compilation, we've divided our selections into a Sergio Leone taxonomy - The good, bad, and the ugly.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gallup asks the wrong question about divided government (yet again), and gets the wrong answer (yet again).

Gallup 2014 Divided Government Poll

Gallup released the results of their annual governance poll with this headline:
In U.S., No Preference for Divided vs. One-Party Government
Thirty percent prefer one-party government, 28% divided government
by Jeffrey M. Jones
"Americans lack consensus on whether it is better to have one party holding the presidency and the majority in Congress, or better to have control of each branch of government split between the two major political parties. Currently, 30% say it is better to have a one-party government, 28% say a divided government is better, and the highest percentage, 37%, say it makes no difference."
Over the years, this Gallup poll consistently shows little or no preference for divided government, yet the result is at variance with the way Americans vote. As the article goes on to say:
"Divided government has been the norm in U.S. politics for most of the last 45 years, with one party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency for only 12 of those years -- 1977-1980, 1993-1994, 2003-2006 and 2009-2010, as well as part of 2001. As such, Americans may simply be used to divided government and do not see it as better or worse than the alternative. But Americans have also seemingly rejected one-party government in the midterm elections that took place in 1994, 2006, and 2010, when a single party controlled Congress and the presidency and the public was dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country."
The problem is in the way Gallup asks the question. Presumably, to make the poll comparable year over year Gallup must ask the same question in the same way, so they are stuck with this wording. Unfortunately the way they ask the divided vs. unified question every year obscures the actual voting preferences of Americans and creates this paradoxical result. 

This a pet peeve for the Dividist. I've written about the problem with this survey before and therefore have no qualms about plagiarizing myself with the same explanation to the same problem question in the same problem poll.  To whit:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Senators Dilemma
- or -
Why it doesn't matter whether Nate Silver or Sam Wang is right about the GOP winning the Senate.

The Senators Dilemma

In case you missed it, there was an interesting  geek-fight between election prognosticators Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight Blog, and Sam Wang of Princeton Election Consortium over the last few weeks.

Nate Silver has long been the darling of progressive poll watchers as he wears his liberal sensibilities on his sleeve. However, he does not let his personal political preferences affect his quantitative analysis.  His accuracy in predicting political outcomes in recent cycles has been nothing less than exemplary. Which explains the cries, lamentations and rending of garments among Democrats when, last March, he predicted that Republicans had a 60% chance of taking the Senate. Notable among the critical cognoscenti was Paul Krugman, who is the opposite of Silver in the sense that he never lets facts, rationality or reality get in the way of his particularly progressive view of the world.

Silver's Senate prediction of a Republican takeover has remained consistently in the 60% range since that March prediction. Which goes a long way to explaining why the left-o-sphere lurched for Sam Wang's recent prediction that the Democrats would continue to control the Senate like a drowning man grabbing for floating debris. Since then Silver critiqued Wang's methodology, who responded in kind by explaining what Silver was doing wrong, leading to another Silver rebuttal, and a Wang counter-tweet...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Toast To Scotland On The Occasion Of Their Independence Referendum

A toast to Scotland. Whatever you decide.
As the polls open in Scotland, I am sitting a world away on the left coast of the United States. I am not of Scottish descent. Still, I raise my glass in their honor.  I ration this 18 year old Laphroaig for special occasions. A wee dram seems appropriate now. Here's to you Scotland...
May you choose the right path for your country, your people, your future.
 Damn - that whiskey is good.

I won't pretend to know what the right choice is for you or your countrymen. Honestly, I don't even really care which decision you make. I just like the fact that you are having this referendum. I like the excitement and passion and panic it has generated.

The polls say the outcome is too close to call. While the "No" vote has a narrow lead, the difference is within the margin of error and well within the undecided vote. That said, I expect those who want independence made their minds up some time ago. The undecided tend to break for the status quo.  They are, after all, somehow still undecided.  So you'll probably still be part of Great Britain when the polls close, and it won't be that close. No matter. Don't regret your decision.

Robert Frost was an American poet of Scottish descent. His most famous and widely misunderstood stanza seems a fitting signpost to mark the occasion:
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — 
I took the one less traveled by,  
And that has made all the difference.
Keep in mind that Frost was not extolling the virtues of forsaking the crowd and choosing an independent path. His narrator finds the two paths virtually indistinguishable and equally attractive. He just ruefully concludes that he will ultimately regret his decision, regardless of which path he takes. Such is the perverse nature of free choice. We always wonder about the path not taken.  Don't look back Scotland. Revel in your decision.

Perhaps I'll have just two fingers more, and we'll conclude with a few interesting and amusing referendum links that caught my attention.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

We are engaged in a very significant counterterrorism operation with ISIL.
We have always been engaged in a very significant counterterrorism operation with ISIL.

The Ministry of Truth explains our war policy.
"We at war with ISIL... In the same way that we are at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe...”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest
"At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia..."  George Orwell 1984
"First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq."  - President Barack Obama - 9/10/14
So now we are at war with the ISIL Sunni terrorist rebels in Syria and Iraq in support of the Post-Maliki Iraq government (after we helped pressure him out),  which aligns us with the Shia Iranian regime, Syria's Assad regime, and Russia.
"In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge, which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened..."  - George Orwell 1984
"... after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out."  - President Barack Obama - 9/10/2013
And one year ago, we were aligned with Sunni Syrian rebel in opposition to the Shia Assad regime and their allies Iran and Russia.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Why do Americans vote for divided government?

Cartoon ripped from Jim Morin of Miami Herald 
Since the end of WWII there have been 34 federal elections in the United States.  Over that time Americans chose to install divided government 21 times. As a consequence, we have lived under a divided government state for 42 of the intervening 69 years or 61% of the time.

Today, we are in the fourth year of our most recent iteration of federal divided government. We have a Democratic President, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Democrat Barack Obama will be our President through 2016.  History and recent polls tell us there is no realistic probability that Republicans will lose majority control of the House in the 2014 mid-terms,  so we will continue to “enjoy” divided government for the rest of President Obama's term regardless of any shifts in the makeup of the Senate.

 One of the more interesting political science questions about divided government is the question of why the American electorate continues to vote for divided government. It is a fact that in the modern era we elect a divided government far more often than not. Why we choose divided government and whether we choose it consciously or accidentally is a subject of analysis and speculation. Is it truly a preference? Is it a statistical artifact?  Is it the result of conscious strategic voting?  Or is it the expression of a subconscious preference from an inchoate confused electorate?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Investors Love Divided Government
CNBC 25th Anniversary Edition

Amanda Drury on CNBC 25th Anniversary
This week CNBC celebrated their 25th anniversary on the air. The Dividist finds a higher signal to noise ratio at CNBC than most cable news networks, so it has often served as a primary source on this blog. We would be remiss if we let CNBC's 25th anniversary pass without taking note and highlighting a few of the Dividist Paper's Greatest CNBC hits.

CNBC 25th anniversary

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It takes two to obstruct.

Obama picks his poison.
Image hacked from The Economist 
Brett Logiurato at Business Insider cites a Washington Post/ABC poll and invokes the specter of an all Republican Congress for the last two years of the Obama administration:
"Democrats are at risk of losing control of the Senate this November, after a new poll found that voters prefer a Republican-controlled Congress to check President Barack Obama's agenda when his approval rating is at its lowest point ever."
Democrats are looking for a silver lining, but with no "wave" election in sight, we're likely to have a classic Tip O'Neill "all politics is local" midterm.  This is good news for dividists like your loyal blogger, but there may be even better news lurking in another finding from the poll:
"Democrats, however, do enjoy an overall advantage on voter trust. Voters say they prefer Democrats' stances on health care (43-35), immigration (40-34), and the economy (41-38), among others.  By a 40-34 margin, voters also say they trust Democrats to "coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years."
The Dividist interprets this apparent contradiction as indicating voters are no more inclined to trust Republicans with all the keys to the castle than they are Democrats. Which implies that losing the Senate in 2014 will actually help position Democrats to keep the White House in 2016 and extending divided government into the next administration.  It's a good thing.

But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. Some Democrats are thinking about what the post mid-term environment on Capitol Hill might look like if the Obama administration is faced with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate. While Republicans in the House usually get the majority of the blame in mainstream media for obstructionism and the "least productive Congress in history", it's instructive to take note of which party is in a panic that Congress might actually "get things done" in the waning years of the Obama administration:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review of The Centrist Manifesto by Charles Wheelan and a Meditation on Third Party Politics in America

The Centrist Manifesto by Charles WheelanCharles Wheelan is the latest in a long line of would-be political reformers who have looked at the two party duopoly in the United States, found it wanting, and proposed the creation of a new third party as the solution. He outlines his strategy for a Centrist Party in his 2013 book  The Centrist Manifesto and continues to beat the drum on his website/blog The Centrist Project.

There is much to like in Wheelan's Centrist Manifesto. First and foremost, he does not fall into the usual trap befalling most third party fantasists - challenging the Republican/Democrat duopoly by running a candidate for President of the United States as a means to popularize and organize the party. Wheelan notes some of the historical challenges facing third parties:
"Conventional wisdom suggests that the American political system is hostile to all third parties. That is wrong. The system is hostile to third parties emerging from the political fringe—the Green Party, for example. These parties do not win elections because they represent relatively small, deeply ideological segments of the population. In fact, they often have a counterproductive effect. Ralph Nader almost certainly cost Al Gore the election in 2000, the pathetic irony being that the Green Party he was supposedly representing ended up worse off as a result of his campaign. When these fringe parties appear, potential supporters must choose between making noise and making a difference." - Charles Wheelan - The Centrist Manifesto (p. 25) - Kindle Edition 
True enough, as far as he goes, but Wheelan does not quite connect the dots on just how truly hostile the American political system is to third party efforts. In particular, he fails to note the pointless futility of third party presidential campaigns. If third party presidential efforts are not completely irrelevant, it's only because of their potential to be spoilers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dividist "10" - Senate Update
Angus King Edition

The Dividist "10" - Starring Angus King
With apologies to "10" and Angus King.  
Maine Independent Senator Angus King opened the door to potentially switching teams after the midterm results are in (H/T Doug Mataconis):
By Alexander Bolton 

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, will decide after the midterm elections whether to switch sides and join the Republicans. He is leaving open the possibility of aligning himself with the GOP if control of the upper chamber changes hands.  “I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine,” King told The Hill Wednesday after voting with Republicans to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure at the center for the 2014 Democratic campaign agenda. King’s remarks are a clear indication that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle will have to woo the 70-year-old senator in order to recruit him to their side.

That lobbying battle could be especially intense if King’s decision determines which party will control the chamber in the next Congress  If Republicans pick up six seats this fall, they will be running the Senate in 2015. But a pickup of five would produce a 50-50 split and Democratic control, with Vice President Biden breaking the tie. King could tip the balance..."
Where have I read this before? Oh yeah. It was me: