An election wrap-up

A few short takes on the election results.

The Economy:  The economy was not the pre—eminent issue in the campaign.  The jobs report out on Friday showed 337,000 new jobs were created in October, and over a hundred thousand jobs were added to the original job creation totals for August and September. Had this report come out a week earlier, it might have padded Bush's eventual margin a bit, and also have taken away one of the oft—repeated Kerry themes:  Bush as the first President since Hoover to have net job loss on  his watch. Now, even with the employer survey, it looks like there will be net job creation in Bush's first term. In the household survey, the numbers already showed job gains. 

One reason the Kerry theme about the terrible economy did not stick with many voters, is because most people did not have a personal experience suggesting that times were all that bad. The hidden story of the economy, rarely mentioned except obliquely by the President when he talked about the ownership society, was what has happened to housing prices.  In the past four years, there was an explosion of home prices — adding as much a $5 trillion to the value of all residential real estate. About 70% of Americans own their homes, and with very few exceptions, all of them participated in this wealth explosion.  The very low interest rate climate, allowed millions to refinance their mortgages, and take money out of their growing home equity, and use it to supplement their wage earning power, and continue to spend.  The housing boom probably contributed more to keeping the economy humming the last few years than any other single factor.

It also helped Bush that about 50% of Americans are now invested, either directly, or through their pensions, in the stock market. 2003 was a very strong year for the market, and helped erase some of the bad memories of 2000—2002.

But most of all, the class warfare theme of the Democrats— railing against tax cuts for the rich — did not score very well. I don't think the Democrats could help themselves here: especially not with Bob Shrum directing the message of their candidate. Class warfare is Shrum's only consistent message.  Shrum kept his perfect record intact —  losing every Presidential campaign with which he has been associated.  The Harvard faculty believe in massive redistribution of wealth and income. Most Americans believe in keeping taxes low, and hope to earn more themselves.  Most Americans do not hate what they want to be themselves.

The exit polls: The exit polls out early Tuesday afternoon were scary. The Fox anchors had long faces, suggesting they were depressed about the outcome. John Kerry was probably practicing his salute in his Beacon Hill mansion, preparing to announce that he  would be reporting for duty on January 20th .  How did these polls go so far wrong?   To begin, the early exit polls probably were based on a national sample of about 4,000 interviews. That means in key states, no more than 200 or so interviews had been conducted. That number is simply not a reliable predictor of a voting pattern of  6 or 7 million voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida.  But the problem goes deeper.   At the end of the night, 12,000 interviews had been conducted nationally.  That is a big sample, with a margin of error of just above 2%.  But the national result was wrong by more than that. The exit poll showed Kerry ahead 51—48, and in fact Bush won 51—48. So the real error was 3%, higher than the margin of error.

Dick Morris and Michael Barone have suggested that the Kerry voters might have been more eager to speak to exit pollsters than Bush voters. I believe that. But it might have gone beyond this — with a deliberate Kerry strategy to get their voters in front of the exit pollsters, to help influence the afternoon exit poll results, and perhaps get potential Democratic voters more excited and Republicans more depressed (and suppress their turnout).

Where are exit pollsters stationed? Is it more likely they would speak to Jewish voters in the Upper West side of Manhattan, or Chasidic Jews in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn? How many exit pollsters were in front of polling stations in small town America, the heartland that delivered for the President?

In national phone surveys, pollsters try to talk to people in various regions, in large cities, suburbs and small towns. How likely is it that a realistic weighting of the likely voting population occurs when a hundred or two hundred interviews are conducted in total in a particular state in the first few hours of Election Day?

The Losers Response:  My hat is off to John Kerry for not pushing a hopeless legal appeal in Ohio, and for a decent concession speech.  Many of his supporters were not so gracious. The New York Times, which used all of its weapons to try to unseat the President, editorialized on Wednesday, that it was time for the President to now become the uniter and not the divider. And there was a simple way for the President to do this — merely adopt the editorial position of the  New York Times (which a voting majority of Americans had just soundly rejected).  The New York Times columnists — Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, Garry Wills, and Paul Krugman, and Jane Smiley in Slate could barely contain their contempt for Christian conservatives, whom they blamed for Bush's re—election.  Let the elitist left continue to lose their 'minds' trashing people of faith. It will ensure that Democrats remain in the minority for a long time to come.  People who go to church are reproducing at a far faster rate than the secular humanists.  And the red states are more alienated than ever from the coastal elites. Democrats now hold 4 of 22 Senate seats in the states of the Confederacy. They have been shut out of Electoral College votes in the South in two consecutive elections.

A national disgrace: All 435 members of Congress stand for re—election every two years. In 2004, slightly over 400 incumbents ran for re—election, with just over 30 open seats. Seven incumbents were defeated, four of them in Texas, due to the Tom Delay Texas redistricting plan. Outside of Texas, 3 incumbents were defeated, a rate of less than 1%. Of 435 House races, 34 involved incumbents running unopposed. In only 40 races, less than 10% of the total, did the winner receive as little as 55% of the vote. In only 8 districts did the winner receive as little as 52% of the vote.

Estimates are that over a billion dollars was spent on House races this year. This enriched the pollsters, campaign managers, advertising agencies, and TV and radio stations. But all that money had little to do with the outcome of many races, other than to enhance an already overwhelming advantage that incumbents have due to holding safe seats.
Compare this to the Senate. There were 8 open Senate seats this year, and seven of them changed hands between the parties. Of 26 incumbents running for re—election, one, Tom Daschle, was defeated, and two others, Jim Bunning and Lisa Murkowski,  barely survived. Other Senate races were fairly close in a number of states — Washington, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Missouri.  

In the 11 Governors' races, four changed hands between the parties, with incumbents  going down in Indiana,  and New Hampshire, and Washington State may also wind up being a party change. 

On a state level, elections are often competitive — for President, Senate and Governor's races.  But the 'People's House' is a joke in terms of competitiveness.  For the Republicans, this means that even though they only hold a thin majority, perhaps 232—203 after two Louisiana runoffs, it would be a major uphill climb for the Democrats to win a net 15 seats in a future election to regain control of the body.