Russ Roberts

Brady on the 2012 US Election

EconTalk Episode with David Brady
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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David Brady, Professor of Political Science and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the November elections in the United States. Brady argues that while the economy favors the challenger, Mitt Romney, current polling data gives a slight edge to President Obama in both the popular vote and the electoral college. The data all suggest that House will stay Republican and the Senate will either go slightly Republican or be tied. Brady also discusses why this may change over the next few months, the importance of the independent vote, and Romney's strategy in choosing a running mate.

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0:36Intro. [Recording date: July 18, 2012.] Russ: Topic is November 2012, what's going to happen in the election; and we're going to mainly focus on the Presidential election, although I'll be interested in your thoughts on the Senate and House of Representatives as well. Let's start with the President. We're in July; we're at a period where Mitt Romney has yet to pick a Vice President. So, that's where we are for those listening perhaps a little bit later than the live version of this. What's going on with the President and what's going on with the challenger? Guest: Well, the way I like to think about this is you're in the campaign season now. In some elections the state of the economy is in a situation where either the incumbent is going to win or the incumbent is in trouble. And this is an election where the incumbent's in trouble. So, it's going to be a close election. Most of the economic models that I use, Ray Fair's model and Doug Hibbs's model show the election pretty close, though Hibbs's modeling includes both the economy and troops abroad. Doug Hibbs's model predicts that Barack Obama will lose; the Ray Fair model, the Yale economist, predicts it will be close to 50-50. I think it's going to be a close election and the campaign is going to matter a lot. Russ: So, given the current polls--which show it to be close, right? I think that's what they show right now--it's a little bit surprising given the state of the economy. It's hard to understand why Obama is doing so well. As you say, the Hibbs model has some foreign policy in it, but I think it's quite small--I think it's deaths. Guest: Right, it's deaths. Russ: Deaths in war; and U.S. deaths are relatively low. Every death is a tragedy, but the magnitudes are low relative to past wars. Guest: That's a small factor. Russ: And given his coefficients on that, there is very little impact. Although you could argue that the sensitivity of Americans to casualties has changed. I suspect that it has. So, that' small. The economy is doing all the work in his model, and basically the model looks at past elections and how--I think it looks at the growth of personal income, actually. Guest: Yep. Russ: Period. Not unemployment but if you look across any set of economic variables, people are unhappy with what's going on. The President doesn't have much to campaign on. Why is he doing so well? Guest: Well, what he has to campaign on, the only thing he can campaign on, is the fact that Mitt Romney is not an acceptable alternative. So, if you remember the Carter-Reagan election in 1980, that election given the state of the economy was a lot closer even in late September than the model would have predicted. And the Carter campaign was: this guy's not responsible, he's too conservative, he's the kind of guy that would lob a nuclear weapon into the men's room of the Kremlin just to prove he was tough. And that sort of sold. But then the debates came and people decided that, hey, Reagan isn't Carter and he's okay. And so the Romney campaign--my view of the ideal Romney campaign--is kind of low key, in which he continues to make the point: I'm not Obama. And therefore my view of that is that's the way he's got to run the campaign. And Obama's campaign--you look at the ads--he's already at Bain Capital; all of those things; he's driving the point home that this is not a guy who can do better than I can. Russ: Romney's a rich, out-of-touch outsourcer of American jobs, greedy fat cat, etc. Guest: Exactly. Russ: That's his campaign, and as you say, with reference to the Carter-Reagan question whether it will stick or not, may be affected by the debates. It seems to be sticking now in some dimension. Guest: Yes it is. You expect the polls at this time to be moving around because most people aren't paying much attention. The people who are going to decide this election--the Independents--are not paying a tremendous amount of attention at this point. The Democrats at this point, all the Democrats like Obama. Republicans don't like Obama; next to George W. Bush he's the greatest divider since we've been doing public opinion. That is, subtract the percent of his party that like him, minus the percent of the other party that doesn't like him--so if it's 90%-10%, there's an 80-point gap. The third and fourth highest gaps are Obama, so Obama is a divider. It means Democrats are going to vote Democrat and Republicans are going to vote Republican. Russ: Isn't that due to steroid use of major league baseball? This swelling of these gaps--is it a coincidence that the two big gaps are the last two Presidents? Or is it really that there is something changing? Guest: That is a first-rate question. I believe that there has been an increase in partisanship. So, for the first time, with President Bush we began to see statistically significant differences. When you asked Democrats what they thought of the economy under Bush, it was horrible; when you asked Republicans, it was not so bad; so that the partisan preferences actually drove the perception of the economy. And that's the first time that had happened in all of our polling data. So, that's new. Russ: Going back how far? Guest: Oh, that data, you can go back to 1937. Russ: Okay, so what you are saying then, is that when you did poll Democrats in the late 1970s about the economy, they admitted it wasn't very good. Guest: Right, exactly. Russ: And when you polled Republicans in the early 1990s, when George Senior (H. W. Bush) was President, they wouldn't have thought it was so good. Guest: Yes. Probably the better example was under Gerald Ford. In the 1970s, they decided it wasn't good. Now, in my view, that's by and large the result of this sorting process. What's happened in American politics is the number of Democrats has gone down; the number of Republicans has gone up--sorry, the number of Republicans has gone down. Russ: Both. Guest: And the number of Independents has risen. Russ: Which sounds like less partisanship. You'd think. Guest: Yes, in the electorate. But, what's happened in my view is that at the elite level--at the committed party level--activists provide the juice, the money, the ideas. And so the political parties are captured by them and the numbers are smaller. So the gap between Democrats and Republicans is now about 6% in the Democrats. Russ: In identification. Guest: Yes. 6% pro-Democrat. Russ: Percentage points. Guest: It means that a Republican has to get 60% of the Independent vote to win. Where Obama could split the Independent vote. So, if Obama wins--at which he'll win the Democratic vote and the Republican vote--and that will be on the margin turnout questions there-- Russ: Say that again. Guest: So, given that there's say, let's say after turnout, a 5 percentage gap, so if just Democrats and Republicans voted, Obama would win by 5%. So, how do Republicans make up that 5% gap? Russ: They've got to win the Independents. Guest: They have to win 60% of the Independents. But if they split the Independents, Obama wins. That's the point. So, we've been tracking through YouGov, the Independents, economists' poll; we've been asking weekly questions on these issues, like, what the chattering class when they deal with this issue of, say, the Catholic, making Catholic hospitals have insurance policies that paid for abortion counseling and abortions. Russ: Or contraceptives. Guest: And people are going, oh, that's the end of the Obama Administration; the Catholics will vote against him. Russ: He just lost the election, I think people would say. Guest: Every week we have that. So, we've been tracking that. We've been trying that every week. You know, and first of all, most people-- Russ: You've been tracking not how people view it, but just whether they know about. Guest: Yes, whether they know about it. And so, 45% on average, about half, haven't heard about it. Russ: Whatever the issue of the week is. Guest: Whatever the issue of the week is, they haven't heard about it. And when they hear about it, when you follow it, they, like, Yeah, I heard about it but I'm not thinking about it all. Will it affect my vote? No, I don't really know. I heard about it. Russ: Whereas the junkies are writing about it every day. Guest: Yeah, the junkies write about it, talk about it. On CNN for the next three days. It's on FOX, it's on three days and it's gone. At the end of the year we'll aggregate all those and ask if that affected the vote at all. Because the nice point about an Internet poll that YouGov does is we've got the same people all the time. Russ: I just want to mention that when you use the term Internet poll, you do not mean a splash screen on ESPN. Guest: No. Russ: You mean having people log on, and it's a panel of very well collected-- Guest: Yeah, scientifically weighted so that it's representative.
10:33Russ: The part that's hard for people to understand, and our colleague Mo Fiorina over at the Hoover Institution recently made this point: it's hard to understand how these hot-button issues that come up every few weeks--Romney's an outsourcer comes out; there's a report that Bain outsourced jobs while he was involved; or this Catholic controversy with health care--it's hard to imagine they don't have these big effects, because after all, the news is saturated with them. But as Mo Fiorina pointed out, not a lot of people watch the news. So, it's a small number. Guest: For example, Rachel Maddow, Stanford grad, very popular people you hear chattering--has 400,000 viewers. The Bill O'Reilly show, which is the most popular show, gets about 2.5-3 million people. So, the facts are not many people are listening to these things. The percent watching Dancing With the Stars is so much greater than anything you'd see on CNN less than a million viewers. Russ: Which is why Romney needs to get on Dancing With the Stars, clearly. That would be the key to success. Guest: If he can dance, yeah. Russ: Well, no, it doesn't matter. It just needs, people seeing these. In fact, it would be better if he couldn't dance well. Show he's human, he can relate. So, two points so far: Most people aren't paying any attention. Certainly most Independents, a bigger percentage of Independents--this is not just a casual observation. Guest: Right. Independents know less about the government and candidates on average than people who are committed and fully partisan, and that's more true now because the people who are partisan, who claim they are partisans, have sorted. Democrats are now liberals; Republicans are now conservative; those numbers are smaller. Russ: And so the larger group in the middle is the Independents, and they are not paying much attention. Which, one conclusion one could draw from that is: not to put much trust in the polls right now. Guest: That's essentially true. If one candidate was ahead by 20 points, you might worry about that. But remember, in 1988 at about this time, in mid-July, Dukakis was ahead of Vice President Bush then by about 14 points. So, there are big swings that occur. And at this time in 1976, Carter was I think 20 points ahead of Ford, and you know he narrowly won. So there's a lot coming down. Russ: Some things can change. Guest: Yes. I think they change in line with the fundamentals of the economy. So, I think it's possible--Romney could win--so, let's go back analogously to 1980. It was possible for Reagan to win with a landslide pretty much as he did. But it was not possible for Carter to win with a landslide. He could win narrowly. I think the same is true for the President this time. President Obama can win narrowly in the electoral college, but he can't win in a landslide because of the fundamentals. Exactly. Whereas Romney could potentially--I don't think he will, I don't think he's Reagan. So, I don't think it'll happen.
13:53Russ: So, we're sitting here in July, the other factor of course--I mean, there's two things that are going to happen between July and November. One is events--the unemployment rate could come down a little bit, which would help the President; it could climb back up, which would be I think devastating. Hard to predict, of course, which of those is going to happen, although there is some mediocre news recently which is worrisome. And then of course there's the campaign itself. And politicians differ--we have some idea of how Obama is going to campaign. Romney does not appear to be a stellar campaigner--which I think is going to hold him back. But he's got the fundamentals of the economy, foreign policy--of course, things could happen in the world that would--if Obama had only delayed killing Bin Laden with his bare hands--he'd have done better. Guest: But I would say, foreign policy, the Republicans could make a stake--for a long time there was this claim about issue ownership. Russ: Right. Guest: Where the Republicans owned the taxation issue; the Democrats owned protecting the middle class and the poor. Russ: And Republicans own foreign policy. Guest: And Republicans own foreign policy. That's not true this time. Sort of across the board on questions of foreign policy, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what's happened there; and in terms of terrorism, Obama has 8 and 10 point leads among Independents and generally. And that's understandable, because most Americans aren't sitting around thinking deeply about foreign policy, but we haven't had a terror attack in these 4 years. Osama bin Laden is gone; we are out of Iraq--there are fewer headlines about it. And in Afghanistan we are pulling down the troops. All of which are generally approved by a majority of Americans. Russ: I think in the past the Republicans owned the foreign policy issue because of what you'd call their muscular foreign policy, or their projection of U.S. power, which I think right now Americans are a little skeptical about, having seen it not do so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guest: Absolutely. Russ: Will the choice of the Vice President matter? Does it ever matter? Guest: Well, when we run--social scientists run a lot of regressions; we can't more than about a percent or so. Now a percent can make a difference in a close election, in some states. So, the last time we're pretty sure that it made a difference was when John F. Kennedy [JFK], when he picked Lyndon Johnson--it probably caused him to carry Texas, which he wouldn't have. And then in a close election, he would have lost. Since then-- Russ: I'm going to restrain myself from making a reference to Robert Caro's biography of Johnson and Johnson's ability to steal elections in Texas and maybe he taught some tricks. Guest: Yeah, but he actually won pretty solidly in Texas in 1960. But the question is, so for me, Romney has done a terrific job of vetting. He's not looking for anybody that can carry anything or anything spectacular. I think he generally wants someone who is not going to make a mistake. So, that means--it's not going to be Condi Rice because she's too tightly tied to the Bush Administration; she's a policy person; she's a colleague here. And Rubio has some problems--he might help with Florida. Russ: Young and untested. Guest: But on the other hand there are a lot of things he doesn't know about foreign policy that the press might go after him big-time on. And nextly, in Colorado and Nevada and states like that, it's just not the case that being Cuban-American, Mexican-Americas helps at all; in fact, it may even hurt. So I think it's going to be somebody like Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman--somebody that's very safe and is not going to disturb the ticket, a Sarah Palin; somebody who could take over for Romney if he's President and something happens. Russ: The Jewish phrase is pareve--neither this nor that. If that's correct. We're doing this in July; I can vouch for the fact that a pick has not been made yet; Dave's out on a limb here. He'll be criticized for being cautious and not showing a lot of--which is I think a criticism it gets. Do you think that's a good choice, the neutral, pareve choice? Or do you think he ought to be more aggressive and risk-taking? Guest: I do. I think his campaign has to be: I'm not Obama. If the election gets to be a referendum on the President's four years, the President loses. If the election gets turned around to be on whether Romney could replace him, then that puts Romney in trouble. So, to the extent that the campaign goes on any [?] it's about Bain or it's about jobs, when did he quit Bain, and those are the questions, that's not good for the Romney campaign. Romney needs to be not Obama. And he still has a lead among Independents--he'd do better on jobs and turning the economy around and that's what he's got to focus on. Russ: Do you think that's a good choice, the cautiousness? You said that as a positive statement, not a normative one. Guest: Yes, absolutely. Because when you look at the question of social issues, go across those sorts of things, immigration--just take immigration. All during the primaries, the way the Republican primaries are set up, the candidates had to talk about I'll build a bigger fence, a higher fence, I'll put more military troops in. And then suddenly, now you've got the nomination and Colorado and Nevada are two of the swing states. And Nevada, the interesting thing, between 2008 and 2012, because of what happened in Nevada, the minority population in Nevada is up 9%; that's mainly Mexican-American, which voted 80% in Obama in 2008; and the white working class population, which voted 60%, 59%, for McCain, is down 6%. It's a big swing. Russ: A lot of them are working. Guest: Yes. So, anyway, issues like immigration, issues like gay marriage--and thus far he's done a pretty good job. When Obama came out and supported gay marriage, Romney didn't comment on it. I think he has to stay off of those things because-- Russ: Got to win those Independents. Guest: You can't win the Independents. The Independents don't care--most Americans don't care, care a little bit about gay marriage; it's on the periphery. They want to know about their job and the economy and what the future is going to look like.
20:53Russ: So, to go back to what you were saying: in the primary season, hot button issues for hard-core Republicans, which are a tiny number of voters, a tiny portion of the electorate--the people who vote in the Iowa Caucuses or the New Hampshire primary just are not--they are representative of the hard-core Republican membership, but they are not representative of the America public. Guest: My favorite is on the day that Santorum won three primaries and became the leading alternative--in fact, for a while a higher popularity among Republicans than Romney--on that day of the three states, Missouri, Maine, and whatever the other state was--less than 2% of eligible voters voted. Russ: In those states. Guest: In those states. That made him. Russ: Yeah. So, he grabbed those hard-core people. So, you are saying that the issues that were important then, Romney is going to just run away from even talking about at all. Guest: I mean, if I was advising his campaign that sure as heck what I'd be telling him. I'd be saying: don't get caught up in this social thing; the American public doesn't care about that. And on a lot of them you're in a minority position. Just let those go and talk about the economy. That's the issue. That's the economy. Russ: And to drive that point home, let's talk about what polls show that people care about. Obviously the economy is important. You can phrase that in different ways--they are worried about growth, they are worried about the deficit, they are many aspects of the economy people are worried about, and if you subdivide it you can get different rankings, etc. Guest: It's the economy, the economy, the economy, the economy. Whether it's jobs, unemployment. All of those things are what matters. Russ: So, health care is not going to be an issue in this campaign? Guest: Health care has slid back as an issue. Insofar as it could be seen as increasing the deficit, it's an issue. But that's a pretty tough case to make to the America public. What happens on the health care stuff is overall they don't like it. Russ: Obamacare. Guest: Yeah. And when you ask about--overall--when you ask about an individual thing. What they like is stuff that they got for nothing. You don't have to have coverage, your kids go to 26, there's no pre-testing. They get all of those and then the see all the costs come--well, that's bad. So, public opinion on health care is. And then second, Romney, is going to have a hard time dealing with that because of the Massachusetts thing. Russ: Yes, he is. Guest: So, I'd lay off of health care. I thought they made a mistake in the campaign waiting five days. The tax thing was like-- Russ: You're talking about the Supreme Court decision. Guest: The Supreme Court decision, they said it's a tax. Russ: And therefore it's Constitutional. Guest: My view is that's a blessing for the Romney campaign because you say: Yes, it's a tax, it's going to raise taxes, which is going to hurt the economy. Which is consistent with the message, with the jobs program. And instead they talked 5 days about it's a penalty, because they called it a penalty before; and they finally at the end of 5 days came out and said it's a tax. I guess my view of that--you said earlier you are not sure how good a campaigner Romney is going to be--and that was one thing to me, that's something that I know people from here have been telling him it's going to come up, you've got to talk about it, you've got to be ready for the court decision. And to have four or five days when you said it was a penalty, it was a tax, and then revert to the position it is a tax, that seemed to me not good campaigning. Russ: Well, he's does not speak particularly well. Many disadvantages. He's got a semi-successful administrative track record--he's run something, which gives him a level of comfort with some people that other people would not have produced. Even Senators and other folks, in his party. Well, we'll see what happens. Guest: He's very smart; he had a great career at Bain. But if you think about the campaign, Bain, Bain, Bain and then after that jobs are going to be outsourced and now they are talking about him not going to be able to release these taxes; and every time they are talking about that--and that's playing on public opinion--that's playing off the campaign message, then it's about him and not about the President. Russ: Yeah. Those tax returns must not be very attractive, because his unwillingness to release them is very damning. It's like not testifying at your own trial. There's an argument for it. You can understand the reason someone might struggle to deal with that well, but I think it's damning. Guest: Right. If you think about it, so look, whatever you think about the President as a person running the government and his policies, suppose you think those are wrong, and badly of the President on that ground. No one who is semi-rational can say the guy is not a great campaigner. Russ: Yeah. A good campaigner. Guest: So, if you think of what they've done so far--they've brought up questions about his tax return, about Bain, about outsourcing jobs; and that all builds up; so there's bang, bang, bang, they've got more stuff. Russ: Oh, yeah. It's early. Either they've got really good stuff later. It's too early. Guest: They're not too early. They're going to build this and it will be kind of a layering--starts here, builds there. And they're trying to create an impression. Now, the one time I know that that did happen was in the Dole campaign in 1986. Bob Dole took Federal matching money; the campaign for the nomination took too long. His campaign, after he finally got the nomination, there was a two and a half to three month period where he had no money to spend because he'd agreed to the campaign limits and until September you don't get the money. And the Clinton people didn't have it, and they banged away and painted a portrait of him that he could never get by. Russ: Are you suggesting that there can be negative campaigning in this election? Guest: I'm suggesting that yes, both of them, that Romney has to campaign against the President and the President's only chance is not to be about his record but just to say Romney is a worse choice. It's going to be nasty. Fortunately I live in California, and therefore there will be no commercials. Texas-- Russ: Why is that? Oh, because no one's going to win it. Guest: Yeah. I have not seen a single--occasionally when I watch CNN I might see a little commercial, but you don't. The swing states are the ones that are already getting all the messages, and all the money is going in there. Russ: Is there a big difference so far in their money accumulations? Guest: Yeah, Romney has raised a little bit more money. We don't know about these new Political Action Committees (PACs), but Romney has done a little bit better. And that's an indication that people are anti-Obama, or a little anti-Obama. The people who are pro-Obama are a little less pro-Obama than they were in 2008. But I don't think that a lack of money will be the determining factor in winning this election. I think they are both going to have plenty of money to attack each other.
28:28Russ: So, it makes life more complicated, but we do have, in the United States, this thing called the electoral college. Guest: What do you mean, more complicated? That keeps me in business. Russ: Yeah, good for Dave Brady, bad for the rest of us. Or not. Actually I think it has its virtues. Unappreciated, and especially because I think the average person has an unfortunate romantic association of democracy of one man, one vote, and majority rule. Which I think is a horrible thing--majority rule--by itself. So things that get us away from majority rule, like the Constitution and the electoral college, I have a place in my heart for them. But that's the way it is. We've got the electoral college. So, the real question that this election comes down to is not who is going to get the popular vote, even though we are going to pay a lot of attention to that the way we pay attention to like runs scored or points in football. It's not how many points you scored; it's how many points relative to the opposition in certain key cases. And so, just as a baseball team can have a winning record even though it's outscored, a President can win re-election if he doesn't take the popular vote. So, what matters is the key swing states. So, what do we know about them right now? Because it's kind of interesting. Guest: Well, there, I just looked at them the other day. Polls that I--you know, there are too many polls, and the question how many are reliable, but so without going into talking about the polls that I believe are valid polls, and then there's a question whether they are sampling registered voters or just general samples. Russ: A lot of fudging, potentially. Guest: Well, you don't know, most of the time they don't know who is right. The problem is-- Russ: It's a small sample. Guest: It's not predicting how some English professor from Stanford is going to vote in the election. The question is: is he going to vote. And on the margin those things can help determining an election. So, there are certain states that are going to be key in this case; and both parties have agreed are the key states. Colorado and Nevada, out here, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. Although I think New Hampshire and Pennsylvania now seem pretty solidly in the Obama camp, to me, so I'd toss those out. And across those states, other than in Florida it's dead even; and in Indiana the President is losing to Mr. Romney; and there's one other state. So, in the swing states, Obama maintains a lead right at the margin of the error, which is generally plus or minus 3 points. But still, even at this point you'd rather be ahead than behind in those polls. So, those are the states. North Carolina is the other state. The President is losing in North Carolina. I think he'll lose in North Carolina. I think he'll lose Indiana. I think ultimately he'll lose Florida. And that sort of starts to get you the tail. Then you take those other states that are left over and that's where the battle is. Ohio is also in there. But I've been surprised that Ohio is four and a half, five points on average in favor or Obama. Russ: I'm not sure we talked about this, but Rob Portman is one of the people you suggest the President might pick, who would be a conservative, small city, cautious, relatively prudent choice--would that help him carry Ohio? Would Rubio help in Florida? Guest: Rubio might be worth a few points in turnout. I don't think on average either one of them help that much, but Portman won't hurt him in Ohio. Surprisingly in Ohio, that was a race where in the Senate seat I thought for sure that wouldn't be a Republican takeover there, but not so. It looks like Rob's going to hold the seat. Russ: We'll get to that in a little bit. Guest: Now, all of this of course can change. You get certain events--European Union-- Russ Collapse. Guest: I don't know collapse, but the Greeks back out, the markets fall; then that's all bad for President Obama. So, I don't know what the good news is for him. The economy couldn't jump up much. Russ: Well, it could. I think even symbolically if he could get the unemployment rate--"if he could get," that's a bad phrase, like he's in charge of it--but if the unemployment rate fell to below 8%, maybe there's some psychological advantage to that. Guest: I agree. That would be right. He'd show improvement. He could go in and say. But I'm not sure that's going to happen. Russ: Seems unlikely at this point. Guest: But I think the Obama campaign has to be predicated on the fact that we are not going to get very much good news; we've got to stay with what we've got; Romney's not the guy, he'll outsource jobs. Russ: To give him his due, he's not totally run away from his record. He has claimed, will claim that he inherited a bad economy; that it's better than it would have been. The theme that I've heard recently is that we were at a precipice and we avoided the precipice and he should get credit for that. I just think it's a hard sell to the American people. Guest: He's a good campaigner. Russ: I want to emphasize as an economist--it doesn't matter whether it's true or not. We are not talking about whether it's true. We're talking about whether the average person thinks it's true. The average person is not as good at counterfactuals as the average economist, so to say it would have been worse and we have statistical evidence that it would have been worse, I think is a very tough sell on a campaign trail. Guest: I agree. Russ: And so I assume he's going to fall back mostly on: It'll be even worse if we go back to the old policies, coddling the rich, etc. Guest: Right, it's two points, on the positive side you are saying I inherited a bad situation; I've got more to do but we are making progress. And you know, the numbers are right--4 and a half million more employed than when he came in. And the counter that Romney makes is it's the smallest recovery. They're both true. So, they are both going to emphasize those facts and the real guts of it is going to be the negativity part of it. Russ: I never thought about it, but politics is really just a matter of agriculture. You've got to cherry-pick the right points and make them bigger than they really are. Of course, economics has the same phenomenon. Guest: The good thing about the economics models which would tell you--the economic models would tell you that if candidates are good and the campaigns are well-run, here's what the results will be. Russ: Pocketbooks count. Guest: But we know that campaigns and candidates are not always equal and not always run so well. So, I use the economic models to say here's the baseline; here's what I expect. Russ: On the fundamentals. Guest: Ceteris paribus. But the point is, there are some bad campaigns. In 1996, I mentioned that. The worst campaign of my memory is the Gore campaign of 2000. The fundamentals at that time were really pretty good. He should have won by 6, 7 points; and so you can have bad campaigns that cause you to lose the election.
36:22Russ: Well, I know it's not scientific, but a few things are. So this next thing I'm going to say is kind of embarrassing. But I'm not a political scientist, so I can say it. But there is a theory that I've always had a soft spot for, which is the candidate you'd like to go have a beer with. And I think--as a proxy for likeability, connectibility. Al Gore, Bob Dole, and I'd add Mitt Romney are not people that easily convince the voters that they'd like to hang out with them a little bit. And I think that's a handicap. Guest: Of the public opinion questions that we ask that are kind of less scientific because it's sort of like you've got a random sample of the American public to whom you say: Who would you like to have a beer with? That's the second best question. Of course, you know what the best one is. Russ: No. Guest: The best one is: Ask the average voter, not now, but come September, early October, and ask him: Who do you think is going to win? Russ: Those are the two best proxies for winning. Are you serious? Guest: No, I'm serious. The best proxy is you ask them who do you think is going to win. Russ: That's the in-trade--that's the casual version of-- Guest: Which are most often right. Occasionally wrong. Russ: Do they ask the have a beer with question, really? Do pollers really ask that? Guest: No. There's a series of questions. Some polls have asked. We asked that one time. But likeability. And George W. Bush versus John Kerry, kind of the same thing. Russ: Even though Bush was a teetotaler. Guest: Yes. One element was they liked Bush more, they liked George W. Bush more than they liked John Kerry. Just remember that the comment you made about Romney; just think of that Kerry gone, the sail thing, where he was wind surfing. The most famous campaign commercial-- so he's windsurfing and when you windsurf you take these big swings left and right; and then in the background they played: I voted for the largest after I voted against it. They had that famous quote. So, the Romney, with his wife on the jet ski. Russ: I want to talk about the Internet here for a minute, because I want to come back to something you said earlier. You said in a primary season, there are these hot button issues that hard-core activist members of the party pay a lot of attention to but most people don't pay attention to, so they get a lot of attention in the primaries. And then a wise candidate runs away from those and tries not to talk about them as much as possible. They'll come up in the debates, obviously, but you can push those aside if you are skilled. This other view says: Well, you've got to motivate your base, because turnout is so crucial. So, in the old days, when you went and made a speech to a particular ethnic group or a particular constituency of workers, you could give one speech there and a different speech somewhere else. It's harder to do that when these clips show up on the Internet now. And so, first of all, whether Romney talks about immigration or social issues, Obama's got all those clips from the primary when he talked about them and he can use them against him; I assume he will. Guest: By the way, the real serious new innovation that we believe affects votes in the last six to eight years is Internet--targeting, just like you think about the Internet targeting advertising-- Russ: Google knows what you like so it gives you an ad-- Guest: and so the fact is that political campaigns has got, so the number of ads that appear, those little clips that appear on websites that, say, Hispanic voters frequent, the number of commercials quoting that on Hispanic radio stations, the targeting and the mail targeting is very extensive now. And very little noted. Very good book by Sunshine Hillygus, she's a professor at Duke University. She shows how those mini-campaigns work. Russ: So, how does the President, how does the candidate, whether it's the President or the challenger, motivate given that he can't talk about those things because you are trying to run away from the middle? Guest: In this time, Romney has an advantage there in that he's the alternative to Obama. So, the base, Tea Partiers, those people who don't like the President, they are willing to compromise some of their views on the grounds that whoever he is, he's better than Obama. In 2008, McCain had that problem, because he was never quite trusted by the base. And Obama didn't. Russ: Because he was the new guy, you are saying? Guest: Yeah. This year it's Obama's problem. The question for Obama isn't are the Stanford students going to vote for Obama. Certainly they are going to vote for him instead of Mitt Romney. The question is, I can tell you now, that the enthusiasm is down. Russ: Not there. Guest: Down. So, in order for the campaign, they have to worry about getting that vote out.
42:06Russ: So, let's take a couple of examples that fascinate me. In an election year where unemployment is high, for the President to veto the Keystone Pipeline project surprised me. First of all, it's an easy issue to pick on him about. And my simple explanation was: well, he has as a strong part of his base people who care about the environment. He is playing to his base. Guest: Playing to his base, the environment. I believe that's correct. And left the issue open so that after the election we can revisit this: and I'll probably open it then. Russ: So he can kind of straddle it. Guest: Short run, yeah. Same with gay marriage. There was a lot of talk that this will hurt the President. It's not going to hurt the President at all. People who are for gay marriage are going to vote for him anyway. People anti-gay marriage weren't thinking about voting for Obama anyway, on average. So the result is, net, nothing. Russ: But, that seems to contradict your earlier point that, okay partisan Democrats can vote for Obama, partisan Republicans can vote for Mitt Romney anyway. Playing to the base seems extremely risky. All I'm really trying to ask you here is: There's a tension between playing to the base to get the vote out and attracting the moderate Independent voter who is going to be decisive. So, how do they do that now? Guest: That's tough. Take the example of gay marriage. The Independents, so the swing voters, they don't care about that. They may be, on average they were more opposed to gay marriage than for it, but if there were 20 issues that you list, it was 20th. So, they are not going to decide their votes. So, Obama can say: I'm not going to worry about that. Russ: Now, that's a very wise decision. Guest: And Romney, when he took this new position not so opposed to the President's view on immigration, so he weighed in the same way: those immigration folks aren't going to go for, they are trying to straddle the median of the party and the median of the voter. And they want to pick issues that make them look like they are courageous but aren't going to hurt them. Russ: Does a typical Presidential campaign have that level of detail? Do you think they are shaping their message with that much precision? Guest: Absolutely. Presidential campaigns--so I'll give you an example. So, I remember in a Presidential campaign--I better not mention specific names--where New Hampshire was going to have to be the key because it was a pro-choice Republican candidate, and we knew that, the campaign team knew that we had to have New Hampshire. And so we put together this little nice policy proposal on taxes, generally one on taxing fuel. So there it was, going to be a proposal; somebody says: What about New Hampshire? The result showed that on average it would cost the average New Hampshire person $.27 a gallon for heating oil in the winter. Russ: It's a cold state. Guest: Gone. Didn't bring it up. Russ: A lot of people in New Hampshire vulnerable. Guest: And then it turns out the candidate dropped out before that. But the point is, there's a lot of specificity on these things. And fights in campaigns about what you should and shouldn't do. Russ: But what I find funny is when people say about this President, say about every President--it's not a partisan issue or Obama issue--that: Oh, yeah, he just follows the polls when he makes a pronouncement. And I assume they all follow the polls. You could argue that's a virtue. I wouldn't, but one could.
46:22Russ: Let's move on to the House and the Senate, because I've suggested, perhaps incorrectly but wearing my small political science hat, that who is President is not quite as important as people think. That this is going to be called the most important election of our lifetime. They say that about every one. That maybe the House and the Senate are more important given that neither candidate strikes me as really a hard-core ideological candidate. People can disagree about that, but I think they are relatively moderate; the House and the Senate are going to have a big impact on the next four years of public policy. So, you want to agree or disagree about that? Guest: I'm not sure I disagree that both of the candidates are moderates, but I do agree with the House and Senate are equally if not more important for policy. Russ: By moderate, I meant that I don't see Mitt Romney willing to spend a lot of political capital to make any radical changes. Guest: Yeah, I see that. Russ: And I think Obama will, despite his 2010 experience, or maybe because of it, will be forced to move somewhat to the middle if the House and the Senate are--as he has informed policy overwhelmingly. He has not governed the way--I like to point out if I went back in time to 2008 and said: We've kept Guantanamo Bay open, we've bombed Libya--he looks like a Republican. You'd have said McCain won the election. Guest: Jack Goldsmith wrote a nice piece early, about a year and a half into the Obama Presidency, saying 85% of the Bush foreign policy had been in place. But I like to think that's for a different reason. Because the President of the United States is responsible for the safety of citizens; and whoever the President is, Democrat or Republican, they see the same thing coming across the desk. They know it's no longer a campaign; you've got to govern now, and coming across the desk is there are real threats to the United States coming from these terrorist groups. So I actually believe that 80, 85% of foreign policy, whoever comes in, whatever they campaign on, they're going to have to do like Obama--more drone strikes, etc. Because they know if they don't protect the country, if there is an attack, they are in trouble. Russ: And cause and effect there is a little easier to pin down than economics. Guest: Right. Also in foreign affairs they have a lot more room to maneuver because there aren't so many--if you propose a health care reform, you propose a stimulus, every Congressman, Congresswoman in the country immediately knows how that's going to affect their district, they get a public opinion poll how that's going to work. Whereas there is uncertainty around: What if we do this in Iraq? What if we do this here? It's not under your control. So, Congress is much more generally--they delegate to the President on foreign affairs. And then, if it works out they pat him on the back. Think of Bush the first, Bush I., how great the war was, the first Iraq war. First pat him on the back, and then beat him in the 1992 election. Whereas if it had gone bad they'd have had a lot of Congressional hearings and shown how he made a mistake, just like they did with his son. So, Congress delegates. But in regard that things that voters can hold him directly responsible for, they don't delegate. They fight. So, I think the House this time is almost certainly going to stay Republican, 242 to 191 now, Republican advantage. After the reapportionment, because of the 2010 election, a lot of Republican governors, probably a Republican gain of 10-12 points. Most people who follow this close agree to that. So, that would make it 252, 254, to 180, 179. The number of seats they need just aren't there. When we go through these races, top 50 seats, the numbers of seats that could change, the numbers aren't there. So the House will stay Republican. Russ: When you say reapportionment, you are talking about the redrawing of districts based on the 2010 Census. Guest: Yeah. Russ: And the Republicans have a lot of Governors, they get a little more. Guest: So, states that lose, like Pennsylvania, when they redraw, etc., they redrew them to favor the Republicans. Texas got four new seats; Republicans control that, so they pick up there. So when you average that across the country, most people agree that the Republicans pick up 10 seats. Russ: Talking about two things, now. The population moves to states that are more Republican; but also the redrawing of districts? Guest: And the redrawing of districts. Both. Russ: What about the Senate? What's the Senate now? Guest: Well, the Senate is 53-47. Russ: Democrat. Guest: With the Independents lined up with the Democrats. And 2012 should be a great year for the Republicans, because 2006 was such a great year for the Democrats. The number of Democrats up for reelection is double that of Republicans. So the question is: they need only to swing three and they are tied. I would have thought that after 2010 it would be almost a certainty that the Senate would be--and now. Russ: Tied. Guest: Yes. But now a bunch of states have got--so Michigan was a state I thought that looked like it would be competitive, Ohio was a state I thought would be competitive. It looks like those are now firmly in the Democrat column. And other states, like North Dakota that looked like a sure thing, the Democrats got a good candidate, a woman who is pretty conservative, because North Dakota after all, she's dead even in the polls. So, I would say 50-50, or at best 51-49 for the Republicans. And it may actually, so when you break it down with sure things, leaning, the most interesting thing to me in my analysis of it, the last set of polls, and other things we run to see what it's going to look like, comes down to Massachusetts. In other words, of all those states, you can say Ohio is leaning this way, Indiana looks like it's now going to go Democrat, and so on. The one state that's dead even, that no one can tell, is Massachusetts. Russ: And that's Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. Guest: So it could come down to Massachusetts to see who controls the Senate. Because if it's 50-50, as long as Obama gets reelected, then the Senate is Democrat. Because Joe Biden, the Vice President, would be breaking the tie vote. Russ: But if Romney wins, then Christie--no, who is going to be his Vice President. Sorry. You didn't mention Chris Christie, by the way. Guest: Chris Christie is not going to be the nominee. Russ: He would not be a cautious choice. Guest: First of all, he's a spectacular speaker, campaigner, which Romney is not, so he's likely to be the kind of guy who overshadows the nominee. You don't like that. Two, for the base, he's not particularly good on a whole set of issues. Like, he coms from a pretty Northeast--so they're pro-life, he's not totally pro-life; he's not anti-immigration in the same way that some of the base is. So, he's not a good choice. Russ: So, he's not going to happen. But whoever is the Vice President, if Romney were to win, then the Republicans cast the deciding vote if the Senate is 50-50.
54:16Russ: Let me ask a different question. I think, if it turned out that there's an economic issue that Romney hammered on, there's a number of issues, but let's say if he hammered on the deficit, that spending's out of control, would that rebound back to the Senate races? Do the issues that arise--are there coattails in that sense? That a President can make the claim that: I need that Senate to stand up to spending levels or blah, blah, blah. Not that Republicans have ever successfully shown a willingness to cut spending. Guest: Nobody, actually those issues don't, local voters in states seem to kind of resent presidents getting in there. The most famous example of course was 1938 when Franklin D. Roosevelt went after a bunch of House Democrats who were blocking policy. And he got his fanny handed to him. And Ronald Reagan in 1982, in order to get certain policies through, 1981 the budget, he agreed not to campaign against certain Democrats as tax-and-spend Democrats. Russ: Really!? Guest: And did so and refused to go after them on that ground. Russ: He kept his promise. Guest: Yeah, he kept his promise. And so the point is that presidents have not been very successful in bringing people along. Now they can hurt in various states. Romney is going to run better in Massachusetts because he's known there than a normal Republican would run in Massachusetts. So that may help Brown a little bit. But you can be sure that Brown is not attaching himself tremendously to Mitt Romney, because that's not going to do it. So, it's state by state. He's running a campaign that says: I'm independent, I voted against my party when I needed to, I'm still pro-choice, I'm not this, I'm not a normal Republican, I did this, I did that. He's trying to show how independent he is. Russ: Though he does drive a pickup truck, I'm sure still, to show he's a Republican. Guest: Yes, I'm sure still. That's useful to him. Russ: And he and Romney both wear jeans, I think to show they--I find that amusing. Guest: Could be they just like them. Russ: Could be. I think it's--like you, I think they focus, test things. Guest: On that ground, you have to give, Obama's the first Democratic candidate for President in the last 20 years that hasn't had at least three pictures of himself hunting. And that's all about blue collar voters who don't like, who tend to be Democratic in terms of they are pro-union and stuff; they on hunting and guns, they do not favor the left in the Democratic party position. Remember Kerry hunting ducks, Clinton hunting ducks, Carter hunting ducks. Russ: Dukakis in the tank. That's kind of like a hunting picture. That didn't work out so well. But yeah, the hunting thing, again is-- Guest: Very important. Russ: But we haven't seen that from this President. But it's early. Guest: No, you won't. Russ: You don't think he's going to. It's hard to imagine. Guest: No, no, no, no, no. Not a hunter. Russ: Yeah, well, it comes from being an academic. Once you've been an academic they don't really allow you to hunt. Guest: Not at the U. of Chicago. There are not many hunters at the U. of Chicago. Russ: No, nope, no. I didn't think so.
57:53Russ: Do you want to say anything about the probability--some people are talking about if the Republicans win both the House and Senate, even though they'll only have at best, and as you point out, a narrow edge in the Senate, that they will try to repeal Obamacare without the threat of a filibuster? Guest: Well, they'll have to have a reconciliation budget. So, in order to avoid a filibuster, which the Democrats would surely have, they'd do a reconciliation budget, which is one up, one down. Reconciliation budgets were, in the 1973 Budget Reform Act, and then Carter was the first to use it, in 1978. But he didn't use it--he was just using it as a technicality. Reagan was the first to use it, in the 1981 budget because he didn't want to--so the normal budget process is 13 bills associated with that that they have to pass. On the Reagan reconciliation, you rolled it all into one, so the first budget said this is the level we are going to set. Then it goes back to the committees and they reconcile the level with what they had been spending. And so the idea was Reagan only had to come out once and say we've got to get a handle on the budget. You don't want to be there 13 times. So, on reconciliation budgets, one way they could do it. Though the strength of the reconciliation guarantee that it's not a filibuster has weakened somewhat over the last 20 years. Going to be hard. And if Obama is President they won't. Russ: Because? Guest: Because in some sense because he would veto it if they did it, and then they couldn't beat that. But the real question is, how is that going to fit together? That health care bill is amazingly complicated. How will the exchanges work given the Supreme Court decision? States want to take the lower level versus the past level. There can't be any increases. How those exchanges will work. How many companies are going to take the penalty versus not going to put your own people. All those questions are going to come kicking in about 2014 and are going to have unbelievable implications for the budget. So they are going to have to rework past aspects of it under any conditions. Russ: What do you think is going to happen, overall, with those major policy issues? Do you think it matters that the, as you point out, if Obama wins, he'll veto that, any attempt to repeal Obamacare. Guest: He'll actively fix tremendously anyway. Russ: Do you think Romney is going to push for that? Any campaign pledges? My first day in office, I'll repeal Obamacare, build that wall, .... Guest: I think, if I was advising the President, what would I advise him? I would say: Okay, so, the only way this health care bill is particularly relevant to you is the extent in which the taxes go up; and in your view it's a drag on the economy. And therefore you have to start creating jobs. Which is not going to be an easy task. It's not clear that those jobs are still here. If they are just waiting for regulation and stuff to drop and they'll suddenly flow back. Some of those jobs have gone and they are not coming back. So, how does health care fit in to his overall plan to get the economy running again. And then to that extent parts are going to have to be deemphasized, and there will have to be changes in the amount of the budget. And then they'll raise the old issue about coverage. I mean, it's about coverage, cost, and quality, right? Russ: Well, let's flip it around. Romney wins with a fairly, let's say, a surprisingly large popular vote win. The Senate goes Republican; they pull out some trick, some reconciliation opportunity to get rid of the vote against the vote against Obamacare without the threat of filibuster. And Romney signs that bill. And so Obamacare is gone. You still have this massive demographic problem with Medicare and Social Security. Is he going to--when is that problem going to get tackled, and by whom? Guest: I think the immediate Democratic criticism will be there are answers out there, but I don't think the Romney campaign has settled on them. The question is: What's your alternative? Russ: Yeah, he needs one if he's going to-- Guest: So, for the election, the best thing is--so, I didn't think it hurt him at all that the Supreme Court decided what they did, that taxes are going up, it's a huge tax increase, and we've got to fix it. And he can just say: I'll repeal it. And he doesn't have to say what he is going to put in its place. And I think that's a problem, because as you point out, Medicare, Medicaid--Medicare is in a little better shape; Medicaid is going to be broke, shortly. Russ: Disability is already broke. Guest: Yeah. So the question is: they've got to have something to put in its place, and that's going to matter to the America people, who do like certain aspects of the Obama plan, i.e., what they got for nothing. Everybody likes what you apparently get for nothing, and that tradeoff is not obvious to me. So that's going to be a hard problem for them. Russ: Okay, so, give me your summary. If nothing happens between now and November in the outside world, summarize where you think the electorate is going. Guest: I think that if nothing happens in the outside world, probably Obama wins narrowly. And that's because I think he's ahead in key states, and I'm not sure that the Romney campaign is going to be adequate to the task. If they are adequate to the task and if they are good and if they make Obama the issue, then they win. And they could win pretty handily. But you know, gun to my head, my wife and my daughter's lives at stake, I think probably House Republican, Senate probably 50-50 or 51-49 and the President probably gets reelected. And that's consistent with Intertrade and the Iowa markets on betting, which is like 55-45 Obama. Russ: Well, it's going to be an interesting Fall. Guest: Yes it is.

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COMMENTS (18 to date)
James Liu writes:

Russ, you're going to have to explain why you like the electoral college some more at some point. I understand your preference for less majoritarianism. I'm even sympathetic. What I don't see is how the electoral college makes the presidency less majoritarian in any meaningful way. If the electors used their discretion, it would be one thing, but they don't. So the result is, instead of the majoritarianism in the entire country, majoritarianism in a few states. So it's good for you if you're in Florida or Ohio (and this year, Virginia), but not as much in California, Texas, or Illinois.

John Berg writes:

This election may be the most important in my life time. I agree with Russ because of our error in amending the Constitution to directly elect the Senate. (A second error was the Income Tax Amendment.) We seriously altered our Constitution and fatally wounded our Federal form of government. The Electoral College provides the last power of the individual States.

Imagine a Federal system in which Senators were appointed by State legislatures and the Federal government had to seek all its revenue from each of the States in stead of going around the States directly to their citizens. Now the Feds can bribe the States with revenue from its own citizens.

John Berg

Greg G writes:

Can it really be possible that the "ideal Romney campaign" is one where the main message is "I'm not Obama." ?

Maybe that will work. Or maybe voters will remember what happened the last time we had someone who wasn't Obama. And maybe they will remember that Mitt Romney supported virtually everything that guy did.

Except that Romney wanted an even more aggressive foreign policy (double Guantanamo, attack Iran, Cheney was a great VP etc.)

Some voters expect that a President Romney would make government a smaller part of their lives and a smaller part of the economy. And that he would do that while pursuing a larger military and a more aggressive foreign policy. Good luck with that. As Brady points out, voters do love the promise of something for nothing.

John Berg writes:

Chief Justice Roberts decision was not mentioned yet he implicitly referred to the 2012 election and specifically blew off his decision by referring it to the people. Won't that decision enrage the electorate and cause them to defeat President Obama?

John Berg

Greg G writes:

John,

You don't need to "imagine" a system in which "the Federal government had to seek all its revenue from each of the states."

We tried that. It was called The Articles of Confederation and it didn't work well at all.

Obama may lose but it probably won't be because voters blame him for Chief Justice Roberts.

Steve writes:

I thank Russ for a very lucid political discussion. I enjoyed it very much and learned some new things.

Russ' humor was in fine form during this program. About Romney he said that he'd get extensive publicity if he appeared on Dancing With The Stars, and he could even demonstrate his "human side" if it turned out he was a bad dancer. Of Obama he said it would have been electorally advantageous to wait until October 2012 to kill Bin Laden with his bare hands. David Brady was funny, too. He quipped that Obama should go duck hunting, but then he pointed out that Obama is not a hunter and it will never happen, that no one out of the University of Chicago is a hunter. Russ agreed and said that academics aren't allowed to hunt. :-)

Everything that was said about the next president needing to win a certain percentage of the Independent vote made sense. I enjoyed using football and baseball as an analogy to the electoral college.

There was one thing Russ said that surprised me, when he was making an analogy between Romney's unwillingness to release tax returns and not testifying at your own trial. Russ said, with what I thought was a fair degree of personal conviction, that he thought both things were "damning." He acknowledged there was "an argument for it," but still it was damning. I know that Russ is pretty much a libertarian (note the small "l," so I'm not presuming he's a radical libertarian). Now, any libertarian worth his salt (small or big "l" libertarian) cherishes certain constitutional rights, and one of them is surely the Fifth Amendment.

Greg G writes:

Steve,

There is nothing in his comments that would indicate that Russ does not cherish the Fifth Amendment.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees you don't have to testify against yourself in a criminal trial. It does not guarantee that you do not have to pay a political price for hiding relevant information as a presidential candidate.

John Berg writes:

Greg G.

Essentially you are saying that the Federal government has a easier time threatening individuals who do not pay but are much weaker facing a state. You were to imagine being under, not the Articles of Confederation, but the US Constitution when the States selected the Senators rather then Senators being selected by individuals in that State. You may imagine that the Federal Congress would approve a budget and it would be apportioned among the States in proportion to the number of adults in each state.

John Berg

Stevie writes:

Greg,

I beg to differ. One cannot claim to cherish the Fifth Amendment while also claiming that invoking the Fifth Amendment is "damning." I'm assuming that if Russ is a libertarian, he cherishes the Fifth Amendment. That is why the statement surprised me. I'm not saying that Russ doesn't cherish the Fifth Amendment; I'm saying that his statement surprised me because it seems inconsistent with what I know about Russ. I hope the distinction is clear.

Another cherished notion is that of innocence until proven guilty. The burden is on the state to prove guilt, not on the citizen to prove innocence.

I'm willing to be somewhat flexible on this. If, in discussing a particular case with a particular jury, someone points out the pros and cons of the defendant testifying and how it might affect the jury, I'm okay with that. But I would NEVER say that exercising your constitutional rights is "damning." Of course, I acknowledge that some people do think it is damning. They assume that if someone doesn't testify they must have something to hide. Okay, so there are some people who either don't understand the Fifth Amendment or don't cherish it. So what? Am I therefore obligated to sink to their level?

If I were serving on a jury, and the defendant didn't testify, I would NOT allow that to influence my decision.

Regarding "hiding relevant information as a presidential candidate," I'm not talking about tax returns. I only mentioned that because that's why Russ made the analogy to not testifying.

Stevie writes:

John and Greg,

If Russ could find an appropriate guest for the topic, I'd be interested in a discussion about what the effects might be of repealing the 17th Amendment.

Barack Obama taught constitutional law. Why don't you try to get him? :-)

Mirza D writes:

Just like James Liu commented earlier, I don't understand why Russ prefers the electoral college either. When compared to directly electing the president, the electoral college looks like an ill-conceived regulation that skews the incentives of presidential candidates.

Stevie writes:

Mirza, I will third that motion. I would like to see Russ do a program on the electoral college, and maybe even combine it with a discussion on the 17th Amendment (direct election of US senators).

Russ Roberts writes:

On the electoral college, my comment was a reflexive rejection of majority rule, something that I think is inappropriately romanticized. Majority rule is one form of democracy and not a particularly attractive one. America is a republic. Yes, the voices of the people matters but they are constrained by the complexities of the way legislation must survive Congress and a potential Presidential veto as well as the Constitution at least in theory.

People make similar complaints about the role of the filibuster in the Senate. It stifles the voice of the majority! Mostly these complaints come from Democrats. If the Republicans gain control of the Senate in November, I suspect we will hear Republicans complaining about it while Democrats are quiet.

Thinking about it some more, it isn't clear that the electoral college does a very good job of avoiding the tyranny of the majority. It does a little bit. It avoids the tyranny of large states over smaller states. Not sure how important that is.

But when we think about what is unappealing about the electoral college, we tend to think it's unappealing because it mutes the voice of the people. A majority wanted Grover Cleveland but Benjamin Harrison becomes the president because of this goofy electoral college. Such logic ignores the incentives candidates face under different rules and the fact that turnout isn't close to 100%. If majority rule replaced the electoral college, candidates would spend a lot more time in the larger states, providing information and inspiration to voters in those states. Under the electoral college, closely contested states become the focus. Should voters in California, Texas, New York, and Florida get so much attention and vote in bigger numbers or would you rather have voters in states like North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Nevada play a disproportionate role?

Neither system is remotely close to perfect. Not sure there is anything to recommend one over the other. I've written more here.

Seth writes:

To add-on to the electoral college discussion, Russ didn't say he prefers it (though he might). He says it has virtues that are generally unappreciated by folks that hold the romantic notion of majority rule.

I agree with this notion.

I tell folks who do not appreciate those virtues to first think about the name of our country. We call it the United STATES of America, not the United PEOPLE of America.

That says a lot about how we fill the executive role.

In the governing of our country, we have one component of representation that is based on majority rule -- that's the House.

We now also have a majority rule in the way we select our Senators, but not in the representation. Two senators per state, no matter population of the state, in the Senate heralds from the name of our country.

The President is selected with the Electoral College, based on the popular vote generally, but represented with a hybrid of population and states.

The Senate representation and the Electoral College are meant to provide checks to the majority rule of the House for very good reasons. Our founders studied history and recognized that majority rule can ruin civilizations. Majorities can infringe on the liberties of minorities. Two wolves can vote to eat a pig for dinner. The pig's vote isn't enough to keep him from being roasted.

Now, you may still not like that and you may have very good arguments against it, but the fact that most people don't even know this rationale and never address these arguments directly or with a historical perspective on why the structure is there is a testament to the cruddy job we do at teaching how it works.

Swedenborg writes:

Because it weighted the slaveholders' votes based on the number of their captives, the Electoral College was an instrument to reassure those slaveholders that the federal government would be powerless to rescue their victims. Eight of the first ten presidents were slavers; the exceptions were John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Describing it as something which mitigates majoritarianism without acknowledging out that its purpose was to protect kidnapers and rapers is a puzzling omission.

John Berg writes:

I enjoyed looking at David Brady's 8/2/10 podcast. Some pleasure in know what HAS happened in the past two years since these words were spoken. The electoral college as a part of the general topic, I might say, general benefit of Federalism probably deserves its own podcast. But the tail-end of that podcast deserves a re-hearing.

"Don't know many cases where they [governors/states] take something away from people that they've given; and sustainable. In California, you do have cuts in state employees, 10% or so. Assumption in the United States is you grow your way out of it. Maybe there is someone out there with the next Internet innovation, energy at 3 cents. But in lieu of that, which we can't predict, few politicians talk straightforwardly that you'll have to give things up. Chris Christie in New Jersey seems to be doing it. Some talking like that. Andrew Cuomo in New York appears to be campaigning on it. First in states, governors will innovate. If conservatives are right--if you can get that spending under control--economy ought to grow. Short term, not sanguine about the prospects of making real decisions. Deficit reduction commission, Erskine Bowles, delivered supposedly harsh message, government austerity, government spending at 21% of GDP, which would be an all-time high. It's 25% now, but GDP very low. Historically 19-20%, peacetime. Democrats seem happier about spending; Republicans, in practice doesn't seem to be much different. Speculate on who Republicans might nominate? Obama's going to get the Democrat's nomination. Don't think it will be Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney. Think it will come out of the states and state elections. In 1998, Governor Bush in Texas; women's vote and Hispanic vote in Texas."

It has been an interesting two years.

John Berg

Stevie writes:

I share Russ' views about the problems with "majority rule." It might be a bit ironic that the Founding Fathers were more concerned about "democracy," and less "romantic" about it, than we seem to be.

Likewise I share Russ' ambivalence (for lack of a better word) over the electoral college. But then, I have radical views about the entire election process. Both the "information" and "inspiration" we receive from candidates is of dubious value, in my opinion. Also, Russ has said before that presidents don't have as much power as many people imagine, which is a romantic notion of the heroic individual (an interesting contrast to the romantic notion of majority rule).

The filibuster in yet another topic. It needs to be modified. In its current form it is far too easy and convenient to use it for partisan obstruction rather than a check on majority excess.

Dan writes:

One of the things I admire about Russ is that he usually so diligent about confronting -- or at least noting -- biases (including his own).

Given that, I wonder why he (and Brady) did not reveal which candidate they are supporting and/or plan to vote for. In the context of this particular podcast, it would have been appropriate (and I think both participants should have done so.

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